Defending Champs Triumph

Wade Askew

By Wade AskewThe Daily Northwestern

For 10 minutes, it looked like Holy Cross might have a chance to pull off perhaps the biggest upset in lacrosse history. But thanks to a seemingly endless barrage of shots, top-seeded Northwestern eventually ran away from the Crusaders, 19-7.

Because of a spectacular effort from goalie Megan Orr, who had 20 saves on 49 shots, the Crusaders (13-6) hung close for much of their contest against the Wildcats (18-1). NU did not score until the 19:27 mark in the first half, when sophomore attacker Hannah Nielsen set off a 6-0 run.

Despite Orr’s 11 first-half saves, NU entered halftime with a 10-3 lead after already launching 26 shots. The Cats were able to release so many shots because of their dominance in draw controls (20-8) and turnover margin (23-10).

With the Cats having the ball for so long, a large discrepancy in shots was inevitable. Considering that, Orr was proud of the way her defense played.

“(NU) would cut to get open, they were always moving, and that’s hard for a defense to defend,” Orr said. “But I think we did an amazing job defending them. If they did shoot, I think our defense did a great job at forcing a bad shot or a weaker shot and forcing them to the outside.”

But the Crusaders could not hold the Cats down forever, and eventually nine different players scored, including hat tricks from sophomore Meredith Frank and seniors Aly Josephs and Kristen Kjellman.

Junior Christy Finch and the NU defense also shined, forcing 23 turnovers and limiting the Crusaders to their lowest goal total since Yale held them to six April 4. Finch, who was named first-team all-American Lacrosse Conference, has consistently been among the top five in the country in turnovers forced, and caused five turnovers against Holy Cross.

“Christy Finch has played great in every single game that we’ve had this year,” Amonte Hiller said. “Every single game – I can’t think of one game that she had a bad game. She’s so consistent, and as far as the defense goes, I think they’ve been playing great. The past four games they’ve really come together.”

In those four games, NU’s defense has given up an average of just six goals per game, forcing 82 total turnovers.

The defense helped make sure Holy Cross scored back-to-back goals only two times in the contest. Both of those instances were met by 4-0 NU runs, the second of which ended the game.

“Overall, any time Holy Cross did get momentum, I thought we did a nice job at responding,” Amonte Hiller said.

NU now moves on to face No. 7 Syracuse, which defeated No. 9 Vanderbilt 16-10 in their first-round matchup.

The Orange fell to the Cats 10-7 on March 30 in NU’s closest game of the season since its opening double-overtime loss to North Carolina.

Since then, both teams have fared very well – Syracuse has gone 7-1 with its only loss coming to No. 2 Penn 10-8, while Northwestern has gone undefeated in 12 straight with an average score of 18-6.

Reach Wade Askew at [email protected]