Lacrosse: No. 1 seed begins run for 4th title

Jimmy Mitchell

Following Northwestern’s loss to Penn in the final game of the regular season, the Wildcats lost the No. 1 ranking for the first time all year.

But after winning their sixth consecutive American Lacrosse Conference championship, the Cats are once again the top team in the nation heading into the first round of the NCAA tournament.

NU was named the No. 1 seed in the 16-team field Monday. The Cats (17-1) are scheduled to take on Notre Dame (12-6) Sunday at 1 p.m. at Lakeside Field.

“We are very excited,” junior midfielder Ali Jacobs said of the top ranking. “Just being a part of the tournament alone is awesome. To be recognized as the No. 1 seed, we are ecstatic.”

This weekend’s matchup will be the Cats’ second encounter with the Fighting Irish this season. Notre Dame was on the losing end of a 16-2 NU thrashing April 9 in Evanston.

But after losing for the first time in nearly two seasons, midfielder Meredith Frank said the Cats do not believe their current ranking will give them any advantage over their upcoming opponents.

“We have to be cautious and be ready to go one day at a time,” the junior said. “Ask any of the 16 teams, and I think everybody would say their goal is the national championship.”

NU’s quest for a fourth consecutive NCAA title began with a plethora of expectations. Despite the loss of senior leaders Aly Josephs and two-time Tewaaraton Trophy winner Kristen Kjellman, the Cats entered the preseason ranked No. 1 in the country based on their previous dominance.

NU stayed at the top until the loss to Penn, which dropped the Cats to No. 2 and gave the Quakers a brief stay at No. 1.

“There was definitely pressure coming into the season,” Jacobs said. “Coming in as national champions, everyone’s really gunning for you because you’re the team to beat.”

Regardless of the weighty expectations, the Cats have remained perfect in Evanston. Their 10 victories this year at Lakeside Field have extended NU’s home winning streak to 41 consecutive games. The streak dates back to a 10-9 overtime loss to Vanderbilt more than four years ago.

And thanks to NU’s positioning as the top seed, the Cats will get to play the first two games of the NCAA tournament at their friendly lakeside confines.

“Home-field advantage is huge,” Frank said. “You work hard throughout the season to get a top seed that allows you to play at home. You know the field, you know the surroundings, you know the fans. It’s a really good atmosphere that we have. It’s an incredible stadium, and we’re lucky to have it.”

With expectations so high, NU has actually thrived on being part of such a legacy, Jacobs said.

“The past championships give us the confidence and the motivation to know that winning a national championship isn’t an unrealistic goal for our team,” she said.

“We have talented players and we have the best coaching staff out there. There’s definitely a little bit of pressure, but it’s exciting, too. We definitely want to win another one.”

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