Lacrosse: Clash of the titans

Brian Chappatta

The last time Northwestern squared off against North Carolina was in the 2009 National Championship game, with the Wildcats dominating the Tar Heels 21-7.

Though Sunday’s game between the two teams is a regular season contest, to get No. 1 NU mentally prepared for No. 2 North Carolina, coach Kelly Amonte Hiller is emphasizing an NCAA tournament-like mentality.

“You can’t get to Sunday if you don’t win Friday, ” senior attacker Katrina Dowd said. “You can’t overlook Friday into Sunday unless you take care of business. That’s the mentality we’re setting for this young team. You can’t overlook anyone.”

Sunday’s contest against North Carolina (11-1) will come after NU (11-0, 2-0 ALC) faces Johns Hopkins (8-5, 1-1) today. Since the Cats are viewing this weekend from an NCAA tournament perspective, they have only been preparing for the Blue Jays, even though the Tar Heels are rolling into Evanston after collecting victories over then-No. 2 Maryland and No. 4 Duke.

“If we look forward, we’ll lose. That’s a given,” Amonte Hiller said. “Right now we’re focused on (Johns) Hopkins.”

She has a point-the Blue Jays have come close to knocking off two top-15 opponents this season, despite being unranked. They lost 11-10 to No. 11 Towson and fell on the road 11-7 to No. 6 Pennsylvania.

That said, North Carolina’s only defeat came in a one-goal overtime loss at Virginia. Aside from a “1” in the loss column, the Tar Heels are strikingly similar to the Cats.

NU has three Tewaaraton Trophy nominees: Dowd, senior attacker Danielle Spencer and sophomore attacker Shannon Smith. North Carolina has three of its own: seniors Kristen Carr, Logan Ripley and Jenn Russell.

Dowd earned ALC Offensive Player of the Week honors for her eight-goal outburst during the Cats’ road trip through Pennsylvania last weekend. Ripley snagged ACC Player of the Week with her career-high 13 saves against Maryland.

Ripley, the reigning National Goalkeeper of the Year, could pose a challenge for the Cats, since their shooting percentage has been lower than usual this year. Against Penn, NU converted on 12 of its 21 opportunities. The Cats were significantly worse when they faced the Nittany Lions, shooting 13-for-34.

Compare that with the 2009 National Championship game, when NU seemingly could not miss, putting 21 of its 27 shots past Ripley.

“We have to get better shooting, we haven’t shot well consistently this year,” Amonte Hiller said. “It doesn’t matter who the goalie is. Logan Ripley has played great and she’s a great goaltender. We need to focus on what we need to do to be successful.”

To correct NU’s shooting difficulties, Spencer said the team has focused on going to the goal with confidence and authority. The team also stressed communication on the offensive end, with Spencer likening the flow of information from player to player to the game “telephone.” The hope is by having everyone on the same page, better shots will open up.

Today’s contest kicks off NU’s five-game home stand to conclude the regular season. The Cats had been on the road for five of their past six games. And when it comes to NU winning, there’s no place like Lakeside Field.

“The fact that both games are at home is huge for us,” Spencer said. “We’re not traveling, we’re not eating at different places and sleeping in different hotel beds. We’re at home and we’ve got our routine.”

NU could not put together a “full 60 minutes” of strong lacrosse on the road, as both Penn and No. 18 Penn State climbed back into the game at the end of each half. Amonte Hiller hopes the familiar home atmosphere will facilitate the mentality to close out games.

“We don’t focus in on the scoreboard, it’s about our performance, and we were not satisfied with the performances we put forth throughout the weekend,” Amonte Hiller said.

“Our goal is to put a complete game together, hopefully we can do it Friday. Once we do it once, we can do it again.”[email protected]