Lacrosse: Shannon Smith shines in season opener

Brian Chappatta

Northwestern’s quest for its sixth straight NCAA Championship is underway, and the Wildcats picked up right where they left off. No. 1 NU came out of the gate firing and never let up, cruising to an 18-6 win against Massachusetts on Saturday.

The victory in San Diego showcased just how different this year’s squad is from last season’s, as the Cats lost Hannah Nielsen, Hilary Bowen and Meredith Frank to graduation. The trio finished their NU careers ranked first, third and eighth in career points, respectively. The Cats had no problem making up the difference Saturday.

“We lost multiple people on our attack,” coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. “We’re showing good signs of being able to come together and fill those gaps. We still need some of our younger players to have that scoring punch too, and that’s definitely going to be a focus for us.”

Attacker Shannon Smith did her part to plug the holes for NU (1-0). One week after leading the U.S. Developmental team with two goals and two assists in a 9-7 win, the sophomore was at the helm of victory again, setting career highs in points (nine), goals (six) and assists (three).

Amonte Hiller moved her from midfield to attack and said she expects big things from Smith this year. Based on her training habits, Smith’s teammates were not surprised by her outburst.

“It sends a message to the other teams of the depth we have on attack this year,” said senior attacker Danielle Spencer, who had five goals in the win. “We see (Smith) do that every day in practice, and now other teams are getting a taste of what she’s capable of. She can really put up some big numbers.”

Smith scored the first goal of the season for the Cats and sparked a 7-0 run to start the game, contributing three of the scores. UMass (0-1) battled back, scoring two goals in less than a minute.

Smith and Spencer proceeded to bombard the Minutewomen with a minute-long spurt of their own. The duo answered with a pair of goals apiece, extending NU’s lead to 11-2 with 7:39 remaining in the first half.

“I knew I had to pick my game up to a new level this year,” Smith said. “I have to keep doing that every day at practice and during games so at the end of the season I’m at the top of my game.”

Spencer, sophomore Alexandra Frank and freshman Erin Fitzgerald added three more goals for the Cats before intermission, extending NU’s lead to 14-3. Frank finished the game with three goals and two assists, both personal bests.

NU stuffed the stat sheet, outshooting UMass 37-14 and dominating draw controls 21-5. The Cats also assisted on seven goals while the Minutewomen had no helpers.

“Certain players have good days where they aren’t missing and things seem to go their way,” Spencer said. “You really can’t take one girl out of the game, you really have to focus on our entire attack. That puts us in a good position against other teams.”

The offensive surge fizzled in the second half, as the Cats notched four scores in the final 30 minutes. A brief stretch of rain midway through the second stanza, which Spencer described as a “torrential downpour,” was partly responsible for NU’s scoring drought.

A more important change between the halves for the Cats was in their own goal. Sophomore Brianne LoManto picked up the win after nearly 40 minutes in the net, and junior Darby St. Clair-Barrie played the final 20 minutes. Both allowed three goals.

“(LoManto and St. Clair-Barrie) did pretty well,” Amonte Hiller said. “They’re going to keep continuing to work hard and battle for the spot. We were excited they were able to come up with a few saves when we needed some.”

Despite the decisive victory, Amonte Hiller and her players said there is still work to be done on a team for which almost half the starters are underclassmen.

“We’re young, and coach Kelly was drilling inside of us to play fearless, don’t play with regret,” Smith said. “If we just work on the little things in practice, things will all come together.” [email protected]