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Lacrosse: ‘Cats rise to No. 3 in country, 2-0 in B1G play

The Lakeshow was hot on a cold day in Michigan.

On a frigid Saturday in Ann Arbor, then-No. 4 Northwestern Lacrosse took on the then-No. 12 Michigan Wolverines in what would be a gritty and chilly game.

This game was especially meaningful for Head Coach Kelly Amonte-Hiller, as her former player Hannah Nielsen is now the head coach at Michigan. Nielsen won four consecutive national championships at Northwestern, where she made her presence known as one of the best to ever don the purple and white.

The ‘Cats were coming off of two sizable victories, beating the Ohio State Buckeyes 22-14 and the Dartmouth Big Green 18-8. These wins both took place at home, in the warm confines of the Ryan Fieldhouse. In fact, Northwestern’s only two losses so far occurred at away games in Chapel Hill and Chestnut Hill.

Michigan boasts one of the best defenses in the country, headlined by their goalkeeper Arielle Weissman and defenders Maddie Burns and Morgan Whitaker. They currently rank second in the nation in scoring defense, only allowing an average of 7.73 goals per game.

The key to this game for Northwestern was to win draw controls in order to gain possession early—thankfully, this went as planned with Jill Girardi at the helm in the circle, where she is third in the nation in draw controls per game with 9.88.

The ‘Cats ultimately won 15 draw controls to Michigan’s 10, with Girardi nabbing seven and Lauren Gilbert and Brennan Dwyer each adding three apiece. Going into the second half, Northwestern outscored the Wolverines on the draw 9-1.

As was expected, Michigan’s defense was very physical and Northwestern often found themselves with player-up advantages and free position shots, which they used to their advantage.

On the offensive end, Senior Elle Hansen has been a wonderful addition after returning from an ACL injury suffered in last year’s Big Ten Championship game. She notched an impressive four goals for a new game high. Girardi also had four goals along with her seven draw controls, while Erin Coykendall tallied two goals and three assists.

While the ‘Cats leading scorer in Gilbert didn’t have a goal against Michigan, she was a huge presence on the attack with five assists.

But, perhaps one of the best performances in this game came from goalkeeper Madison Doucette, who was just announced as a member of USA Lacrosse’s world games roster this summer as well as the B1G Defensive Player of the Week. Doucette had a career-high 16 saves with nine goals allowed, as is reflected in the final score 12-9.

As far as more conference awards go, Girardi also earned midfielder of the week and Sammy White was awarded the Freshman of the Week for her career-high three ground balls.

After only one goal was scored in total by the end of the first quarter, the ‘Cats quickly jumped from a 1-0 lead to a 3-0 lead just a few minutes into the second frame. Soon after, Michigan cut the lead to one with a score of 3-2.

To begin the second half, the Wolverines went on a three-goal run to tie the game at 7. The ‘Cats then fired back two of their own to take a 9-7 lead, and the Wolverines were able to add only one more before Northwestern went on a three-goal run. The game ended with Michigan’s Erin Garvey’s second goal of the regulation with less than a minute to go, but the final score was in Northwestern’s favor.

After the ‘Cats other conference foe, then-No. 3 Maryland, suffered their first loss of the season to James Madison, they fell to No. 8 in the polls and Northwestern moved up from No. 4 to take the Terps’ spot. This is NU’s highest ranking of the season thus far, trailing No. 1 North Carolina and No. 2 Boston College, both of whom handed Northwestern its only losses so far.

Now on a four-game win streak, the ‘Cats will travel to State College to face Penn State and the University of Pennsylvania this weekend before returning home to face No. 8 Rutgers.