Lacrosse: Cats aim to keep turnovers under control against No. 5 Blue Devils

Brian Chappatta

To figure out how to stop No. 5 Duke this weekend, coach Kelly Amonte Hiller could look to her alma mater, Maryland.

The second-ranked Terrapins crushed the Blue Devils 17-4 when the two squared off in Durham, N.C., on Feb. 27-one of only two Duke losses on the season. The other came Saturday when No. 4 Virginia won a narrow 8-7 contest at Duke.

Aside from the losses, the Blue Devils have easily defeated their opponents, winning by an average of nearly eight goals a game. Five of those wins came against teams in the top 20.

Northwestern (8-0, 1-0 ALC) hopes to continue the trend of Duke (9-2) losing to higher-ranked opponents on its home turf this Saturday. But Amonte Hiller is expecting to step off the plane and into a battlefield.

“They’re an excellent team­­-they have a ton of weapons all over the field,” Amonte Hiller said. “I’m expecting it to be a great competition. It’s always tough when we go down to North Carolina to play, but we’re looking forward to the trip.”

Like the Wildcats, the Blue Devils feature a multi-faceted scoring attack, with four players notching at least 20 goals this season. Sarah Bullard leads Duke with 31 goals, while Lindsay Gilbride and Christie Kaestner have combined for 46 goals and 33 of the Blue Devils’ 56 assists.

“They definitely have a balanced attack, but they have a lot of top players,” senior attacker Katrina Dowd said. “They have three exceptional attacking middies and attackers that we’re really keeping our eye on.”

Duke is also similar to NU in that the Blue Devils are adjusting to a new goalie-only they had to adjust midseason. When sophomore Mollie Mackler suffered a season-ending knee injury, freshman Kaitlin Gaiss stepped between the pipes and Duke has not missed a beat.

Gaiss has allowed 31 goals in four games while racking up 22 saves. Despite her inexperience, both Amonte Hiller and Dowd praised her poise defending the net and emphasized the need to get quality shots.

Those are the types of looks NU got in its 15-5 victory over No. 14 Notre Dame on Tuesday. The Cats connected on more than half of their shot attempts, going 15-for-29. But Amonte Hiller and the players were disappointed in their sloppiness with the ball. After turning the ball over 16 times in the first half against No. 8 Syracuse, the Cats vowed to take better care of the ball.

Still, the Cats had 24 turnovers against the Fighting Irish, tying their total from their 13-12 win over the Orange. Freshman defender Taylor Thornton said controlling the ball comes from decisiveness and willingness to take a chance with a pass.

“It comes from mental focus, playing fearless and not being afraid to make a mistake,” said Thornton, who was named ALC Defensive Player of the Week. “It’s taking the risk but being confident every time you step on the field.”

If NU plays fearlessly at Duke, it won’t be based on Maryland’s game plan. As it turns out, Amonte Hiller never got the film from that game.

“No, we didn’t get to see (the game),” Amonte Hiller said. “It wasn’t a great day for Duke. But that doesn’t have anything to do with what’s going to happen on Saturday.”

The Cats’ matchup with the Blue Devils is the first of three road games against ranked opponents, including trips to No. 16 Penn State and No. 6 Pennsylvania.

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