Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Lacrosse: Despite departures, NU looking four-ward

Confidence. It’s what champions have and what great players and teams exude.

It’s the result of compiling a 62-2 record and three national titles in the past three years. And that’s exactly what Northwestern has done.

The Wildcats’ run does pale in comparison to that of the University of Maryland, which won seven titles in a row between 1995 and 2001, with NU coach Kelly Amonte Hiller on the field for the first two. But the Cats believe they have a good shot to close the gap on the Terrapins.

While the team isn’t guaranteeing a four-peat this season, NU has a definite air of confidence.

“The past two years it has been our goal to win a national championship, and it’s no different this year,” junior goalie Morgan Lathrop said. “We want to be as successful if not more successful than we have been in the past.”

Lathrop’s play the past two years is a big reason why the Cats are looking at a potential four-peat.

After she burst onto the scene as a freshman, Lathrop was outstanding between the pipes for the Cats last year. She recorded a school-record 160 saves and led the nation with a 5.92 goals-against-average and a .576 save percentage en route to being named Inside Lacrosse’s National Goalie of the Year.

But for Lathrop, the individual accolades are just window dressing for her career.

“It’s nice to be individually recognized,” she said. “But that’s not what it’s about. It’s about the team and winning. I’d take a win any day over playing well myself as long as the team won.”

The team is expected to keep winning, even though many key players graduated after last season. This will not be a rebuilding year for the Cats.

Among the departed are Kristen Boege and Lindsay Finocchiaro, two defensive leaders of the last three years. After playing with them for her first three years at NU, senior defender Christy Finch will attempt to win her fourth title without them. Finch realizes her opportunity to win four collegiate titles is one just a handful of athletes receive, in any sport.

“I never thought that when I came here that I would win every single year,” Finch said. “But we hold ourselves to a higher standard than most other teams and are very confident in our abilities.”

For the four-peat to materialize, Finch will have to anchor not just a young defensive unit, but also a young team. There are only four seniors on this year’s roster, two fewer than last year.

But the respect Finch commands on the field should help make that a non-issue.

“Christy embodies leadership,” Amonte Hiller said. “She’s not afraid to do anything or get her hands dirty. She’s done a tremendous job mentoring a young defense by getting them up to speed. She’s one of the best defenders I’ve ever seen.”

Of course the biggest loss from last season is midfielder Kristen Kjellman, who won two Tewaaraton Trophies as the nation’s best player.

“Kristen was amazing, an amazing player and asset to our team,” Lathrop said. “What was so great about last year was that we had Kristen Kjellman, but we had so many other players that were so great at the same time. We’ve never relied on one person to get it done, because we have so many weapons, and that is why we’ve been so successful.”

Kjellman scored 250 goals and recorded 349 points in her career, both NU records, while appearing in 82 games and winning 77 of them. Fellow senior Aly Josephs added 187 goals and 208 points.

But even without Kjellman, don’t expect the Cats to suffer from a lack of firepower.

NU juniors Hilary Bowen and Hannah Nielsen, have scored a combined 111 goals and 216 points. Nielsen thrust herself onto the national stage last season, becoming a Tewaaraton Trophy finalist by doling out an NCAA-record 69 assists.

Although in the fall Nielsen was worried about the added pressure to produce, her concerns are going away.

“I thought … it might be a little difficult with Aly and Kjellman gone,” Nielsen said. “But I think me and Hilary Bowen have been working well together. With losing seniors you also bring out new players to fill those roles.”

The 1-2 punch of Bowen and Nielsen is more effective because they have a strong off-the-field friendship that translates into teamwork and creativity on the field, Nielson said.

That creativity might help the Cats lead the nation in scoring for the second year in a row.

NU has a lot of talent spread over the field, but with so much attention focused on just a few individuals, the Cats can penalize teams that key on Bowen or Nielsen too much.

“I think it’s a compliment if a team is trying to stop you,” Bowen said. “But that is hard for a team to do because we have so many good players, even freshmen. If they are coming at me, everyone else will be open.”

In order for Nielsen and Bowen to improve upon their breakout seasons, they will need help from their teammates. One of the players who figures to get even more opportunities this year is junior midfielder Meredith Frank, a first-team All-American as a sophomore who finished second on the team with 61 goals. While not as flashy as Bowen or Nielsen, Frank has been one of the team’s most consistent players since starting all 21 games as a freshman.

Although many of the team’s stars are juniors, the freshman class is already making its mark, just as Frank did two years ago.

NU’s freshmen, including midfielder Brooke Matthews, make up more than a third of the team. Matthews started the team’s first game of 2008.

“I think Brooke Matthews has been exceptional this year, really getting in the mix,” Lathrop said. “Colleen McGeraty is really stepping into attacking roles as well off the bench.”

The departures of some key players also cleared the way for others who previously did not get much of a chance to play. One such player is sophomore midfielder Danielle Spencer, who scored 11 goals all of last season in a backup role but stepped up to notch three in NU’s first game of the season.

To go along with these fresh faces, the Cats also will open their new lakefront stadium March 7 against Duquesne.

The stadium will be able to host significantly more fans, allow the team to play night games and potentially draw even more attention to the sport.

“It’s just so awesome for Northwestern and athletics,” Bowen said. “For our team it’s a great opportunity to play on a field like that. I hope it will add excitement to our sport and get more fans out and build the sport in the Midwest, as well as kick-starting our season after our first game there.”

With a new stadium, new players and more confidence, NU again looks set to challenge the best programs in the country for lacrosse supremacy. If the Cats grab a fourth title, they will give the senior class, which has lost just twice in the past three years, a title for each year it has been at NU.

Not bad for a program that Amonte Hiller resurrected from scratch in 2002.

And while the team acknowledges what it can do, the players are just focusing on the current task at hand.

“We always set our goals really high,” Nielsen said. “But at this point in our season we can’t think about that. … Although the national championship is our goal this season, we can’t get there if we don’t play and focus on each game. We have to take it one day at a time.”

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Lacrosse: Despite departures, NU looking four-ward