NU clamps down on late Hoyas surge

Jimmy Mitchell

Picking up where it left off, top-ranked Northwestern began the 2008 campaign with 10 straight victories and looks poised for a run at its fourth consecutive national championship.

NU (10-0) faced only one opponent ranked in the top 25 during the first month of the season. But as the season progressed, so did the difficulty of the schedule. From March 24-30, the Cats took on three ranked opponents – No. 6 Syracuse, No. 9 Georgetown, and No. 18 Vanderbilt.

“We were all really excited for (the challenging schedule),” said junior attacker Hannah Nielsen, who leads NU in scoring this season. “We had gotten some easy wins in the beginning of the season, and now we’re playing the tough teams.”

NU’s first test came on March 24 as they traveled to upstate New York to take on the Orange (8-2). The game stayed close throughout the first half. But early in the second, NU staged an offensive onslaught.

Led by junior attacker Hilary Bowen and sophomore midfielder Danielle Spencer, the Cats reeled off 10 unanswered goals in a span of twenty minutes on their way to a 19-7 victory. Bowen and Spencer each score four goals.

“The way we came out in the second half and really exploded against Syracuse…everyone stepped up, Danielle and Hilary included,” Nielsen said. “It was a collective win, and as a team we all picked it up to another level.”

The Cats faced a much tougher test four days later, as the Hoyas (8-2) arrived at Lakeside Field in Evanston. After NU took an early 2-0 lead, Georgetown responded with three consecutive goals, leaving the Cats trailing for only the second time this season.

Faced with a rare deficit, the Cats responded with goals from Bowen, Spencer, sophomore midfielder Maggie Bremer and junior midfielder Meredith Frank to take a 7-4 lead with less than nine minutes left in regulation.

The Hoyas, unwilling to concede victory, scored twice to cut the lead to a single point with about four minutes remaining.

But ultimately the NU defense, led by veteran senior Christy Finch, held off the Hoyas to seal a 7-6 victory. The Cats used their superior ball control to seal the win, keeping possession in the final minutes.

“Georgetown came in with a good plan against us,” Nielsen said. “They were really patient and made our defense really work. I think our defense showed a lot of heart to hold on to the win.”

NU had an easier time at home against Vanderbilt (7-4), as the Cats took the March 30 contest, 14-8. The win was record-setting: The Cats tied the school mark of 31 consecutive victories, and coach Kelly Amonte Hiller also earned her 100th victory at NU.

Nielsen said the trio of victories has prepared the team for the next stretch of the season, when the Cats will face five ranked opponents in six games. The grueling stretch starts Sunday, when NU travels to Durham, N.C., to take on the fifth-ranked Duke Blue Devils.

“We know every game is going to be a tough game, because everyone’s gunning to bring us down,” Nielsen said. “It makes us better, makes us prepare harder, and it’s always good to get some tough games going into the serious part of the season.”

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