Super Sophomores

Wade Askew

By Wade AskewThe Daily Northwestern

The sophomore class is often a forgotten one. Not yet upperclassmen but no longer new freshmen, second-years seem to receive the same amount of attention as a Scarlett Johansson co-star – sure he’s there, but who really cares?

The exception to this rule, however, is the Northwestern lacrosse class of 2009. Take the first 12 minutes of NU’s 14-9 quarterfinal win over Syracuse on Saturday: five goals, all by sophomores Meredith Frank and Hilary Bowen.

Or consider a three-minute stretch midway through the second half that came almost five minutes after Kristen Kjellman extended the Wildcats’ slim lead to 9-7.

Sophomore Hannah Nielsen, Bowen and Frank scored consecutively to expand the lead to 12-7 and put the game out of reach with 13:01 remaining.

Each of those sophomores ranks in the top four on the team in points scored, and the trio has totaled 160 goals and 114 assists, 65 of which came from the stick of Nielsen.

Add the fact that the player stopping opponents’ shots is sophomore goalie Morgan Lathrop, the nation’s leader in goals-against average and save percentage, and the amount of accomplishments of this class has already achieved is a bit absurd.

While all four players started as freshmen, each has considerably stepped up her game this year. Lathrop cut her goals-against average from 8.23 to 5.74; Frank increased her scoring from 32 to 58 goals; Bowen has tallied 87 points, good for second on the team, after contributing 35 last year; and Nielsen has upped her point total from 23 to an astounding 113, including a school-record 65 assists.

Frank, who is the reigning American Lacrosse Conference Rookie of the Year, credits much of the success of her class to its senior leaders.

“(The seniors) are great role models for us,” Frank said. “I think that every individual on this team, no matter what class, can get it done, and I think every game is different and every game somebody different steps up. I think we’ve been fortunate enough to have them as leaders to show us how to get there, show us how to get it done, and we’re just trying to get them their last – get them to where they need to be.”

It will undoubtedly depend largely on the quartet of sophomores whether or not the seniors will indeed get “where they need to be” – a third-straight national championship.

Regardless of class, no player on the team has been more instrumental than Nielsen in the team’s 19-game winning streak. The Australian is one of five finalists for the Tewaaraton Trophy, along with last year’s recipient, senior teammate Kristen Kjellman.

Nielsen now attracts the attention of every defense.

Syracuse coach Lisa Miller said the Orange focused on shutting off Nielsen and Kjellman on Saturday. This certainly was not something Nielsen was used to facing – or expected to face – at the beginning of the season.

“It’s different from the start of the year. You’ve just got to take it as it comes,” Nielsen said. “If someone’s putting their focus on me and Kristen, then the other people are going to be open, and I think that proved with Meredith and Hilary (on Saturday). It doesn’t really matter who the attention’s on – someone’s going to step up and score.”

Reach Wade Askew at [email protected]