Wildcats On The Verge Of Semifinals (Women’s Lacrosse)

Wade Askew

By Wade AskewThe Daily Northwestern

A trip to Philadelphia and the Final Four will be on the line Saturday when No. 1 Northwestern hosts No. 7 Syracuse.

It will also be an opportunity for revenge for the Orange (13-5), who gave NU (18-1) its closest game since a season-opening overtime loss to North Carolina. The Wildcats defeated Syracuse 10-7 on March 29 in a surprisingly low-scoring contest – the teams entered that matchup with the two most potent attacks in the nation.

NU has won its 12 games since playing Syracuse by an average score of 18-6. Syracuse, meanwhile, has won seven of eight, with the only loss coming May 6 to No. 2 Penn, 10-8.

The teams enter this contest with the two highest scoring offenses in the country, with NU averaging 16.71 goals per game and Syracuse 15.31. It seems more likely that the final score will add up to 27 than 17, but if the Orange can slow down NU with its zone defense as it did in the first contest, the Cats may have to play another grinding, physical and methodical 60 minutes.

But the Cats stress they will determine their own style of play.

“I don’t think they caught us on our best day. They played great, but I think since then our attack in general has gotten a lot better,” sophomore attacker Hannah Nielsen said. “We just need to play our own game. I don’t think we need to change up too much because of the zone, and probably just keep running our plays and running our usual offenses.”

Sophomore midfielder Meredith Frank echoed those sentiments, saying NU needs to “make (Syracuse) adjust, make them change their defense, don’t change what we do.”

Coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said she cannot be sure what defense Syracuse will run – the Orange has alternated between a pressing man defense and the zone throughout the year – but she knows Syracuse will play an aggressive, athletic style.

After the Cats defeated Holy Cross in the first round of the tournament, Amonte Hiller called Syracuse fast and strong with “some big girls.” Frank said that those “big girls” can be intimidating to some teams.

“I think they play really good, physical, aggressive defense,” Frank said. “That can make attackers tend to shy away from the goal, but I think they’re definitely beatable.”

The Syracuse offense shares the mentality of its defense. Senior defender Lindsay Finocchiaro said what makes the Orange offense so effective is not necessarily superior skill, but instead superior effort. She described an offense always “going hard” and looking to score, which is the toughest aspect of the offense to defend against.

Finocchiaro added that she believes the NU defense can hold Syracuse to fewer than seven goals. She, like Frank and Nielsen, said the Orange didn’t see the Cats’ best efforts in late March. Even still, Amonte Hiller credited those feelings to Syracuse’s play and NU’s individual performances, not the team’s overall performance.

Still, NU is looking forward to this game just as much as Syracuse, as both teams hope to prove they can improve on their last effort – plus the small detail that a win means a ticket to the Final Four.

“We’re definitely very excited to play them again,” Finocchiaro said. “I think that we have something more to show them; I don’t think that we played our best game, and I think they’re going to see a lot more than they saw the last time.”

Reach Wade Askew at [email protected]