Coming off a season in which Northwestern spent much of the year as the No. 1 team in the nation, but failed to get deep in the NCAA tournament, the team is looking to repeat and extend its success this season.
The Wildcats return all but one player from last year’s squad and next spring will try to win their 11th straight Big Ten title.
This weekend, the Wildcats hosted the Wildcat Fall Invitational, and while it was only the second tournament of the fall for most of the Cats, they proved that they are ready to take on the country.
Without the help of three of their top players – junior Samantha Murray, senior Georgia Rose (ranked 11th nationally), and sophomore Maria Mosolova (ranked 6th nationally) – the Cats posted a 20-8 tournament record.
While those three did not participate, junior Lauren Lui had a solid weekend, finishing 3-1 in her matches. Ranked No. 36 in the preseason rankings, she was eliminated by Ana Maria Zubori of South Carolina in her singles quarterfinal match.
Despite that loss, NU placed a representative in the semifinals in four of the five flights the team entered.
With their top stars not participating, NU showcased one of its new weapons. Freshman Stacey Lee won four matches en route to the Flight C singles crown, and coach Claire Pollard thinks she can contribute right away.
“I was really impressed with Stacey,” Pollard said. “She’s going to be important.”
In four matches, Lee dropped just two sets. Lee’s opponent in the finals, Deselma Salkovic of DePaul, forced her into a third set. But the freshman shook off first-year jitters to win the match, 6-3, 1-6, 6-3.
Pollard said while Lee is just a freshman, she showed she is still an important part of the team.
“It’s going to take all eight of them to do really well this year,” Pollard said of this year’s depth.
The Cats are trying to work better as a team and keep a consistent mindset, which Pollard emphasized will be necessary for the team to avoid another upset in the NCAA tournament next spring. Last year, the top-seeded Cats lost 4-2 to California in the NCAA quarterfinals.
“Sometimes it is too short sighted just to think about winning in the moment and not developing enough in May,” Pollard said. It is important, noted Pollard, for the team to “balance improvement over winning.” Pollard described “a preseason mentality starting April 1,” explaining that this shift in mindset will hopefully allow the team to “peak” later in the season.
With the amount of talent on this year’s team, 2009 might be the year the Cats become the second NU team to bring home hardware in May, joining women’s lacrosse as they aim for a fifth straight national title.
Rose and fellow senior Nazlie Ghazal still have the upcoming indoor season to work out the kinks in their games before they try to cap their four-year careers with a title. NU is next in action at the ITA regionals, which begins Oct. 23.
“We’re learning from our mistakes last year,” Ghazal said, echoing the words of her coach. “We are working more on process rather than the result now.”