Enough with the flip-flops, just give NU props for its championship run (Lacrosse Preview: Column)

Nina Mandell

Looking for predictions on how the 2005 national champions are going to do this year is tough in Chicago where very few people know anything about lacrosse.

So I called up my friend to ask what people in the East Coast-dominated lacrosse world thought of Northwestern lacrosse now. We’ll have to call her “Not National Champion” or else she might get in trouble with her own Big East team.

The conversation didn’t go so well.

Me: So what do you guys think about Northwestern’s chances to repeat?

Not National Champion (NNC): Um, they lost some important seniors?

Me: Do you know which seniors?

NNC: Ummm –

Me: What have you heard about them in general?

NNC: We haven’t played them ever!

Giving up on that, I decided to ask about opponents like Duke, which was ranked above the Wildcats in the Inside Lacrosse preseason poll (before the Cats topped the U.S. National Team) to make sure this wasn’t just a result of not knowing anything about other teams before the season started.

Me: What about Duke?

NNC: Duke was really good when we played them. They have a lot of depth and they kept subbing so that made it really hard to play with. I think they’ll be really good this year.

Got it. It’s been nine months since NU sped through an undefeated season to a national championship, and the lacrosse world still hasn’t figured out who they are yet or bothered to pay attention to them.

OK, fine.

But their own school must know who they are, right? NU hadn’t won a national championship since 1941 until the women’s lacrosse team took the title.

So ignoring the fact that most people leave football games by the time their buzz wears off, I went to take a random poll of students eating dinner at Norris hoping to find that school spirit NU students so often lack. What did I hear? “We have a lacrosse team?” “Oh that’s the team that wore flip flops to the White House.”

Then more people – oh yeah, flip-flops. Flip- flops. Flip-flops. “They won the championship (hurrah!) – and wore flip flops to the White House. My mom saw it on CNN.” And my favorite? “Umm, I stole a lacrosse stick during Homecoming.”

I was frustrated. And sick of hearing about the overdone flip-flop issue.

Northwestern and the lacrosse community need to pay attention to this team.

These athletes are amazing. Their biggest fan is Jaclyn Murphy, an 11-year-old who spent last season fighting cancer and receiving phone calls, instant messages, t-shirts and game tickets from her favorite team. Many of them passed up chances at more established East Coast powerhouses, long before the Cats saw championship success, to take a chance on coach Kelly Amonte Hiller and her team that has only been a varsity program since 2002. They refuse to rest on the fact or get cocky about it. Despite all my greatest attempts, I can’t even get them to trash-talk any other team. They have more fun than any other team I’ve seen at practice – oh, and they won a national championship.

It is rare for a team to remain undefeated two seasons in a row and part of the reward for the Cats winning the championship is that they were able to schedule tougher teams to play earlier in the season.

Even if the lacrosse world doesn’t know that much about them, by virtue of being a national champion, every lacrosse team in America is chasing NU this season. That means staying undefeated is going to be a little tougher this season.

But if a loss happens, it should not mean that they are looking at empty stands for the rest of the season, as is all too common in NU sports.

I was thinking of just making gigantic headlines every time they had a game, a practice, went to class, whatever. Anything to make it so the NU wrestling team is not the only consistent fan base they have.

But junior attacker and Tewaaraton finalist Kristen Kjellman had a better idea.

“We just have to keep winning,” she told me, completely unconcerned with her team’s lack of reputation. “I don’t think there’s anything else you can do but win and win a national championship.”

Maybe this time around, at least their own school can remember them.

Assistant sports editor Nina Mandell is a Medill junior. She can be reached at [email protected]