The Untouchables (Lacrosse)

Wade Askew

By Wade AskewThe Daily Northwestern

Winning championships shouldn’t be easy. But Northwestern certainly made it look that way after outscoring its opponents 41-13 en route to an American Lacrosse Conference championship.

No. 1 NU (17-1, 6-0 American Lacrosse Conference) clinched the first ever ALC tournament title Sunday, dismantling No. 8 Johns Hopkins (11-7, 3-3) 22-6. That came after defeating No. 17 Penn State 19-7 in the semifinal.

Against Penn State, sophomore Hannah Nielsen broke current-assistant coach Lindsey Munday’s single-season assist record with her 55th 20 minutes into the game. She finished that game with five assists and added four more against Johns Hopkins to bring her season total to 61, which puts her second on the NCAA single-season list.

Nielsen added four goals to her four assists in the championship game, earning her tournament MVP honors. She also fueled a 10-0 run to start the game, assisting sophomore Meredith Frank on a goal just 59 seconds into the contest.

But after jumping out to a 10-0 lead, Johns Hopkins began to claw back into the game. Lauren Schwarzmann’s goal with 2:03 remaining in the first half got the Blue Jays on the board and also began a 5-0 spurt that mostly took place in the second half.

It took just five minutes in the second half for the Blue Jays to cut the lead to 10-5. Johns Hopkins dominated draw controls during the run, which prompted NU coach Kelly Amonte Hiller to call a timeout and emphasize one point: win the draws.

“We did not have the ball in that whole time they had five goals – we did not have the ball once,” Amonte Hiller said. “And when we got it, we turned it over. So we needed possession, we needed to play offense, and once we got it on our offensive end, we took advantage of it.”

After the timeout, NU returned to its first-half form, scoring 12 of the game’s next 13 goals.

Sophomore attacker Hilary Bowen, who had four goals and two assists on the day, said the timeout served as a bit of a wake-up call.

“I think we realized that we couldn’t just go out there and take the game lightly just because we were up by some goals,” Bowen said. “We knew that they were going to come out hard, we had to go out there and play as if the game was 0-0.”

NU cut the second-half draw control deficit to 10-8 and possessed the ball for most of the game’s last 20 minutes.

When the Blue Jays did hold the ball, the Wildcats’ defense consistently took it away, creating a turnover margin of 21-9. The turnovers fueled the offense and helped create a 30-21 shot advantage for the Cats.

“We converted on a lot on second chances, second opportunities, that we were given by playing hard defense,” Bowen said. “If we lost the ball, we’d get it back, and getting those second chances and converting on them really makes a big difference because those opportunities can turn the game around.”

The defense also came up big in essentially removing the nation’s top point scorer, Mary Key, from the contest. Key came in averaging nearly seven points per game, accounting for more than half of the Blue Jays’ offense.

Key had only one goal on the day thanks in large part to the defense of freshman Sara Harrington. Harrington face-guarded Key the entire game, and if Key did touch the ball she was immediately double-teamed. The strategy was so effective that with 10 minutes remaining, Key had possessed the ball a total of eight seconds in the second half.

With the win, NU’s 17th straight, the team gains even more momentum heading into the NCAA tournament, which starts May 13.

“It’s definitely a tune-up for the NCAA (tournament),” said junior defender Christy Finch said. “We want to get the NCAA trophy and become national champions again, but we still have a couple more games. … We’re in a championship kind of mode.”

Reach Wade Askew at [email protected]