Lacrosse: Trying to rebound

Brian Chappatta and Brian Chappatta

Just more than 10 minutes into Sunday’s game against North Carolina, sophomore attacker Shannon Smith found fellow sophomore midfielder Alex Frank for a score, putting Northwestern in the lead 4-2. One minute later, it was Frank passing the ball to Smith, who connected on her 37th goal of the season.

Yet with 10 minutes remaining in the first half, the Wildcats were stunned. In less than five minutes, the Tar Heels went from trailing 6-2 to leading 8-6.

That’s when sophomores Smith and Frank connected yet again. Smith fired the ball to Frank, who scored to snap North Carolina’s 6-0 run, prompting an NU 6-0 run to reclaim the lead.

Their efforts were not enough, however, as the Tar Heels pulled away in the second half to win 18-16, handing the sophomores their first loss at NU.

“It’s a loss so it’s not the best feeling,” Frank said. “It’s one of those things. We lost, we have to get over it, get ready for the next game and use it to push us forward. But yeah, it does suck.”

Frank scored three goals against North Carolina-all assisted by Smith-to up her season total to 15, good for fourth on the team.

Frank’s performance against the Tar Heels was no coincidence. Coach Kelly Amonte Hiller told her heading into the weekend the team needed her to become an additional weapon on the offensive end. “We asked her to (be the fourth option on offense) before that weekend and she’s starting to step up,” Amonte Hiller said. “She needs to continue to improve her play all over the field. Hopefully we’ll have more than four options on Saturday night.”

Smith and Frank have been thrust into leadership positions as sophomore starters on a youthful NU squad. Amonte Hiller said she expects the two to continue to emerge as vocal and physical leaders on the field.

As roommates, Smith and Frank spend a lot of time off the field together. Smith said she is typically more vocal and outgoing than Frank, but when it comes to competing on the field, their mindsets are identical.

“We’re both competitive people and the loss isn’t sitting well with us,” Smith said. “I don’t like losing to begin with. Just in life, in general I hate it, I’m a competitive person. But I think we’re going to build off of it.”

To develop the chemistry seen by the record-breaking crowd at Lakeside Field on Sunday, Smith and Frank spend extra time after practice working with each other. Though they have known each other for less than two years, in the heat of the game, finding each other has become second nature.

“We’re always looking for each other,” Frank said. “We’ll come out and do extra practice shooting and throwing to one another, and we really know where the other likes the ball. I know if I pass it into her she’s going to catch it, no matter what.”

No. 2 NU (12-1, 3-0 ALC) looks to rebound from a loss for the first time in nearly two years Saturday when No. 8 Vanderbilt (11-3. 4-0) comes to Evanston. The Commodores, the second-highest ranked American Lacrosse Conference team, are looking to leapfrog the Cats in the conference standings.

Vanderbilt rolls into Evanston on a 10-game winning streak, with its last loss coming to Stanford on March 7. A week ago that string of victories would seem like nothing compared to NU’s.

Now the Cats are back to square one: retooling, refueling and refocusing for the final stretch.

“These (practices) have been competitive and intense, but we’ll see where it goes,” Amonte Hiller said. “It has to be a lasting change in order for this to be a good loss. I don’t subscribe to that, but if we can get more intense and take our game up, that’s always a good thing no matter what happens.”

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