Wildcats Leave Devils Blue

Wade Askew

By Wade AskewThe Daily Northwestern

On Saturday, Duke got a taste of bitter Midwest weather. But worse than the flurries and freezing temperatures was the lopsided 17-5 loss that came with them.

Duke (10-2) came into the game ranked No. 4 in the nation after an overtime victory over then-No. 4 Virginia a week earlier. But after scoring the game’s first goal against No. 1 Northwestern just 38 seconds into the contest, it was all downhill for the Blue Devils.

NU (8-1) was held scoreless over the first 6:50 of the first half, but after senior Aly Joseph’s first goal, the floodgates opened. The Wildcats went on to take a 9-4 halftime lead on the heals of Joseph’s hat trick and sophomore Meredith Frank’s two goals.

Both Josephs and Frank doubled their output in the second half, finishing with six and four goals, respectively. NU quickly killed Duke’s will after halftime, outscoring the Blue Devils 8-1.

The win served as revenge for last year’s 16-10 loss at Duke that ended NU’s 31-game winning streak.

“I just think we all tried to remember back to when we lost to Duke last year in the regular season, and that was really fuel to our fire,” Josephs said.

“We definitely wanted to make a statement that last year’s loss was a fluke, it was not going to happen again.”

What was perhaps the most surprising stat of the game was senior Kristen Kjellman’s one goal.

Despite the school’s all-time leading point scorer’s lack of goals, coach Kelly Amonte Hiller called the game “one of the best games of her career.” In addition to the goal, Kjellman tallied one assist, five draw controls, two ground balls and two forced turnovers.

Kjellman’s game was illustrative of the team’s balance that particularly characterizes the offense. After scoring only 10 goals against a tough Syracuse zone defense on March 30, Amonte Hiller implemented a motion offense that works particularly well against man-to-man defenses. The offense features constant dodging, passing and cutting and produced six different NU scorers and nine total assists.

“If you have a two-dimensional game where you have players that can go one-v-one, and you have players that can pass, it’s really deadly,” Amonte Hiller said. “We have a nice combination of both on our offense.”

Sophomores Hilary Bowen and Hannah Nielsen are prime examples of this two-dimensional approach. Each is instrumental in the offense, quarterbacking it from behind the goal. From that position, they are threats to both dodge and find cutters.

Against Duke, the duo combined for four goals and eight assists.

“They’re two of the best passers I have ever played with and I think I ever will play with,” Frank said. “They can go to goal or they can pass.”

The offense’s success at possessing the ball for most of the game helped the nation’s top defense stay fresh and aggressive while holding Duke to 10 goals under its season average. It was the sixth time in as many games NU has held an opponent to its season low in goals.

Junior Christy Finch led the way for the Cats, forcing five of Duke’s 20 turnovers. Finch is second in the country in turnovers forced.

“(Finch) is a roaming destroyer,” Amonte Hiller said. “She is one of the best defenders I’ve ever seen, to be honest. I’ve played against her in practice, and she just is so tough, and she has really stepped up … She’s fast, she’s got the quickest hands out of anyone I’ve ever seen.”

It was perhaps the first time Amonte Hiller seemed totally satisfied with both the offense and defense in the same game. She called it the team’s “best game yet,” and was excited about the contributions that came from the entire team.

“That’s the great thing about this team,” Amonte Hiller said. “We have a lot of different people who can do a lot of different things, and I think that some of the stuff that they do is really exciting.”

Reach Wade Askew at [email protected]