Best of the Midwest

Jimmy Mitchell

With the notable exception of Northwestern’s three consecutive championships, dominance in the sport of lacrosse has for the most part evaded the Midwest. Twenty-one of the top 25 teams in the nation reside in either the East or the West Coast.

But NU and Notre Dame, the two premiere lacrosse programs in the Midwest, have shown that playing near Lake Michigan is just as legitimate as competing by the Atlantic or the Pacific.

The No. 8 Fighting Irish (9-3), currently in the midst of a four-game winning streak, will travel to Lakeside Field to take on the top-ranked Wildcats (11-0) Wednesday at 6 p.m. NU is coming off a 15-11 win over Duke last Sunday that set a school record of 32 consecutive victories.

NU and Notre Dame, which hold a firm grasp on supremacy in the region, will face each other for the eighth time Wednesday. The familiarity has bred a newly formed rivalry both on and off the field, sophomore midfielder Danielle Spencer said.

“We refer to (Notre Dame) as our biggest local rivals,” Spencer said. “Both of us want to be that team in the Midwest that is the best school. And a lot of girls on our team have been heavily recruited by Notre Dame, so there’s been competition there as well.”

The Cats have taken five out of their seven contests with the Irish, including the last four. They have also won three out of four match-ups in Evanston, including a victory over the Irish in the 2004 NCAA tournament.

“It’s a really great rivalry, because we’re like Midwestern neighbors almost,” said junior goalkeeper Morgan Lathrop. “It’s nice to have such a good team in our backyard, two and a half hours away. We get to play them every year, and it is like a Midwest showdown every year.”

After a tough stretch in which Notre Dame dropped three of five games, the Irish have rebounded to take four consecutive victories that culminated in a 12-8 upset win over Duke on April 3.

Ranked No. 13 in the nation at the end of March, the Fighting Irish have jumped five spots with their hot streak and reached the eighth slot.

“(Wednesday’s) a huge, huge game, especially coming off of Duke and knowing that (Notre Dame) beat Duke. So we’ve definitely tried to be really mentally focused,” Spencer said.

Notre Dame will be NU’s fifth-straight ranked opponent, but only the first this year to come from the Midwest.

The dominance showcased by the two programs has done a great deal in spreading lacrosse in the region, Lathrop said.

“Having these young high school girls, everyone wants to go to Notre Dame or Northwestern,” she said. “And to have them in the Midwest, it’s making people really take a second look towards the Midwest. And I don’t think these girls used to do that.”

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