No. 1 squad breezes past Buckeyes to finish season

Nina Mandell

Lacrosse

Perfection just isn’t good enough — yet.

With an 18-5 win over Ohio State (5-10, 3-3 ALC) on Thursday, No. 1 Northwestern made history in flawless fashion, finishing the regular season undefeated for the first time in program history with a 17-0 record (6-0 ALC) and breaking two major ALC conference records.

But besides a quick cheer and pictures, the team kept its celebration to a minimum. NU showed less emotion than it had after almost every other major win of the season.

The Wildcats quickly turned to concentrating on the next goal: winning an NCAA championship.

“It’s just a great win for us because we win the conference outright, and that was one of our goals in the beginning of the season,” senior Ashley Koester said. “More importantly, it puts us in a great position heading into the tournament … the big thing is it just gave us a lot of momentum.”

The win means NU has a good shot at one of the four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament, which begins next Thursday. The first two rounds likely will be in Evanston.

Thursday afternoon, with a 1-0 Ohio State lead in NU’s final regular season game, the Cats’ offense couldn’t get into the crease against a scrappy Buckeyes defense. Ohio State goalie Lauren Riddick rejected two shots in a row, and NU sophomore Emily Lovett said that she was a little nervous the game would be tougher than the team bargained for.

“We came off to a slow start,” Lovett said. “I mean, the nerves were going … but we figured things out and took it to ’em.”

The nerves didn’t last long, as the Cats wove their way through the Ohio State defense to an easy win.

“It means a lot,” NU coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. “It’s great going on the field against some top competition, and potentially having one of the top seeds in the tournament is something really special.”

Sophomore Aly Josephs scored the Cats’ first goal of the game off a free shot 10:11 into the first half, setting up a 10-0 first-half run for the Cats. The only thing in question was whether the Cats would break the ALC single season scoring record that they set last year.

But late in the second half, Lindsey Munday dove through the Ohio State defense to make the score 17-3 and give the Cats the last goal they needed to break the record.

“Sometimes I think it’s just a matter of us deciding to do it,” Koester said. “When we do it, there’s no stopping us.”

Once the Cats grabbed a 2-1 lead with a goal by Sarah Albrecht, the team seemed able to score at will for the last 15 minutes of the first half.

While holding Ohio State to five goals, the NU defense also shattered the ALC record for the fewest goals given up in a conference season, set by Penn State in 2003.

NU shut down the 2003 ALC player of the year, Regina Oliver, who was held to one goal.

Koester said the footage the team spent the week watching paid off.

“She’s super powerful and fast and aggressive,” Koester said. “She’s really the heart and soul of their team, and so we didn’t want her to get going. We wanted to tire her out, because when she’s tired she doesn’t play as well.”

Senior Ashley Gersuk stopped four Ohio State shots before freshman goalie Abby Bangser made her second appearance for a pre-NCAA tournament warmup and grabbed three saves.

While the players said they were excited about an undefeated season and outright conference championship, they said they planned on celebrating with a tailgate and then getting right back to work.

With Selection Sunday this weekend and a bid already secured, Koester said the Cats are just concentrating on the next four games on their way to the championship title.

“We can celebrate this tonight,” she said, “But we really gotta get back to work and focus for four more games, and that’s the bottom line.”

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