Visit to Vandy yields automatic NCAA bid

Nina Mandell

Lacrosse

As the No. 1 team in the country, there wasn’t much doubt that Northwestern was going to the NCAA tournament.

But the Wildcats defeated No. 18 Vanderbilt (6-8, 3-3) 18-8 Sunday just to make sure.

With the win, the Cats (16-0, 5-0) clinched at least a share of the ALC title and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

“We’re really excited,” NU coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. “It gives us that easy way into the tournament, and now we’re going to focus on getting a win on Thursday, set us up for a really good seed in the tournament.”

Unless the Cats lose to unranked Ohio State on Thursday, they will win the title outright for the first time in modern program history.

Freshman Abby Bangser burned her redshirt to play her first college minutes and grab four saves for the Cats in the last 17:30 of the match against Vanderbilt. Bangser, who redshirted through the season to save a year of eligibility, came in to get some practice and give the Cats more depth in goal as they head into the tournament.

“We feel like she’s been doing very well in practice and we feel like going into the tournament with the more depth, the better,” Amonte Hiller said. “She knew going into this year at any point she could play, and she just wanted to do whatever was best for the team.”

Bangser was a two-time First-Team All-American in high school and Connecticut’s 2004 Player of the Year.

The freshman filled in for senior Ashley Gersuk, who grabbed her 500th career save against Vanderbilt.

“It was an amazing feeling just to be on the team with the team on the field,” Bangser said. “I had no doubts about not being a redshirt, I was just nervous coming into the game that I would make a mistake.”

But her team had no fears with the freshman behind them in goal.

“It’s the same whether Ashley or Abby are in goal,” sophomore Aly Josephs said. “It’s just more exciting with Abby in there.”

Josephs sparked the Cats’ offense and scored four goals, including two in the first five minutes of play. Junior Lindsey Munday led the team with six points.

The team set the record for the most goals scored in a single season, breaking its own record from last year of 239.

NU grabbed the first four goals of the game, leaving Vanderbilt scoreless until the 15th minute. The Cats answered the Commodores’ goal with four more of their own until Vanderbilt’s Kate Hickman got two tallies in less than 30 seconds. Josephs found the net one more time to give the Cats a 10-3 lead at halftime.

The Cats also grabbed more than twice as many draw controls as Vanderbilt, allowing the Commodores only two draw controls in the first half. Kristen Kjellman led the team with nine draw controls, one more than Vanderbilt’s total.

“Draw controls equal control of the ball,” Bangser said. “When you win draw controls, you keep control and run at your own pace.”

NU outscored Vanderbilt 6-1 in the first 14 minutes of the second half before Hickman put three past the Cats. Junior Jenny Bush scored her sixth goal of the season and Sarah Albrecht had her second of the game to close out NU’s scoring. The Commodores got the last goal of the game, but the win gave the Cats revenge over the only team that has beaten them in their last 29 regular season games.

“It’s big for us,” Josephs said. “It’s exciting because we improved on what we did last year.”

Reach Nina Mandell at [email protected]

Sunday

NU 18

vandy 8