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Lax: 7th-ranked Wildcats go to Happy Valley and knock off Penn State

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Northwestern takes a big step closer to a Big Ten Championship.

Sheila Nesselbush and Julie Krupnick stayed hot, the Wildcat defense shut down a high-powered Penn State offense when it counted, and Northwestern (12-3, 4-0 Big Ten) came away with a 17-13 victory, prolonging their seven-game win streak and putting them just two wins away from a Big Ten title.

The Nittany Lions (9-5, 3-1) came in averaging 16.23 goals per game, good for fourth in the country, but the Wildcats held them well under that total. Krupnick recorded 13 saves, and Northwestern’s defense caused eight crucial turnovers over the last 27 minutes of the second half, holding Penn State to just four goals over that span.

The redshirt freshman goalie, who holds the second-best save percentage in the Big Ten, has allowed just 61 goals and made 70 saves over the current Wildcat winning streak. Her ten-save first half and the key defensive plays all over the field in the second frame showed why Northwestern boasts the 12th-ranked scoring defense in the country.

Despite traversing a considerable second-half drought of their own, Northwestern rode a ten-goal first half and a late 4-0 run (after Penn State had closed the gap to one) to another strong performance. Nesselbush, who now has 25 goals over her last seven games, tallied a career-high of her own with six points. Meanwhile, sophomore Holly Korn and freshman Jill Girardi each contributed their first-ever hat tricks, and Selena Lasota brought her team-leading goal count to 41 with two rockets, adding two assists. The Wildcat offense and their stars seem to be heating up as the regular season comes to a close: they’ve put up 57 goals over the last three games, with Lasota and Nesselbush combining for 24 of them.

The win is Northwestern’s first regular season victory over Penn State since 2014, and it brings them a step closer to setting up an undefeated showdown in two weeks at College Park. The Terrapins and the Wildcats are the only two undefeated teams remaining in the Big Ten, and if Northwestern can take down Rutgers, a team the Wildcats have never lost to, next week during Senior Night, the clash of the titans will be set. With the offensive and defensive momentum that Northwestern is carrying into the rest of the season, Maryland ought to be very worried.