After grinding out a home victory against conference foe Michigan on Thursday, the Wildcats (11-4, 4-1 B1G) led from the get-go Saturday to earn a 15-11 win over the impressive Fighting Irish (13-3, 5-2 ACC). Red-hot Northwestern extended a run of seven wins in eight contests, and their impressive upwards trend comes at a perfect time: just one game remains in their regular season.
Just like against Michigan, the Wildcat offense, though it had its low points, exposed another top defense. For the first time all year, Notre Dame, the second-ranked scoring defense in the country, allowed more than 13 goals. The Wildcats even reached their final tally of 15 with more than nine minutes left.
But Northwestern’s first win of the season over a top-five foe relied significantly upon their defense as well. Senior goalkeeper Mallory Weisse, starting her third straight game after replacing Julie Krupnick in the cage, made a career-high 14 saves, standing on her head to keep the Fighting Irish at bay.
The Wildcats jumped out to a very quick start. A pair of goals from junior Lindsey McKone after Selena Lasota tallied just 24 seconds into the game gave Northwestern an early 3-1 advantage. It turned to 5-2 with less than eight minutes gone in the half thanks to scores from senior attackers Liza Elder and Claire Quinn.
Savannah Buchanan’s first-half hat trick kept the Irish in it, but they didn’t have much else going offensively. The Wildcats headed into the break with just a 9-6 lead after a Notre Dame free-position goal with less than a minute to go.
To begin the second half, Northwestern absolutely locked down on the defensive end. Across a 26 minute span encompassing the end of the opening frame and the first 15 minutes of the final period, the Irish scored just twice. In that time, Lasota added three more goals, and Izzy Scane tallied her second of the game on a free-position chance of her own. All four goals were scored within a four-minute span.
From there, the Wildcats cruised. Scane completed her hat trick to send the lead to six with less than ten minutes remaining, and Notre Dame closed things with two meaningless scores to give the 15-11 final.
Lasota once again led the team in scoring, raising her season total to 59 by putting five in the back of the net. Lauren Gilbert had a hat trick as well, and she and Scane each garnered an assist. For the second straight game, the Wildcats held a crucial, decided advantage in the draw circle, with specialist Brennan Dwyer’s ten draw controls leading the team to an 18-10 edge. Dwyer now has 30 personal DC’s in her last three games.
For the Irish, Samantha Lynch joined Buchanan with a hat trick. They slowed Northwestern’s offense down a bit by forcing 19 turnovers, but allowed the Wildcats 12 free-position chances (they converted on five).
Northwestern closes out their regular season slate on Thursday in Columbus against the Big Ten bottom-feeder Buckeyes. Then, it’s on to the Big Ten Tournament, with a probable semifinal rematch against Michigan staring them in the face.
The Wildcats are shoo-ins for the NCAA Tournament, but require a top-six seed to out their first game. They were ranked sixth before this impressive weekend, so that battle will be something for Northwestern fans to watch.