Lacrosse: Cats look to down Devils in Duke redo

Brian Chappatta

It’s no secret No. 2 Northwestern shook up its lineup following a loss to No. 3 North Carolina by inserting freshmen Erin Fitzgerald and Amanda Macaluso into the offensive mix.

The first-year players have made instant impacts, as Fitzgerald showed in the first round of the NCAA tournament against Notre Dame, notching three goals and an assist in the 19-7 win.

As No. 5 Duke prepares to take on NU this weekend in the NCAA tournament quarterfinals, the Wildcats’ young guns are only part of the Blue Devils’ concerns. The more pressing issue is trying to do a better job containing NU’s most experienced midfielder-Brooke Matthews.

Matthews torched the Blue Devils in the Cats’ 19-14 regular-season victory, leading the team with a career-best five goals. The junior is among the fastest players on the squad and has no qualms about running the opponent over on her way to the goal.

“We were able to capitalize on transition a little bit and push the ball,” Matthews said. “I was able to use my speed, and that was nice.”

Not from Duke’s perspective. The Blue Devils contained the Cats’ top three attackers to eight goals-the fewest any opponent had allowed the trio up to that point in the season. Senior Katrina Dowd had four goals while senior Danielle Spencer and sophomore Shannon Smith each notched two scores.

NU still managed to put up 19 points behind five goals from Matthews, in addition to three from sophomore midfielder Alexandra Frank and two from sophomore midfielder Jessica Russo. With their main scoring threats neutralized, the Cats had confidence other players would step up against a top-tier team.

“If the defenders on myself and the other attackers aren’t going to slide off, then (the midfielders) can just run it in and that’s what happened a couple times with Brooke,” Spencer said. “We all hope to produce and play well, but if we’re getting double-teamed or triple-teamed every time, we have to be able to rely on our teammates and trust them.”

Coach Kelly Amonte Hiller pointed out at the start of the NCAA tournament that as the postseason progressed, the elite teams would hone in on NU’s trio of scorers. She said Duke is one such squad that has a bevy of strong defenders to counter the Cats’ powerful attack.

She added the transition game employed against the Blue Devils during the regular season may not be used Saturday. Though Amonte Hiller still wants her team to play fearlessly, she emphasized the importance of possessing the ball and staying in control throughout the contest.

“This is a different point in the year,” Amonte Hiller said. “We want to play controlled. Brooke naturally is successful in transition because of her speed-I mean, her speed is just incredible. But Duke has incredible speed as well. Possession is crucial and we’re just going to stick to our gameplan.”

The Cats faced the Fighting Irish and Blue Devils in consecutive contests earlier in the year, and just as the team did not put much stock in the win over Notre Dame in the regular season, the same goes for the victory at Duke.

Location is another difference from the Cats’ previous bout with the Blue Devils. While Duke had home-field advantage in the regular season, NU will get to play in the comforts of Evanston with a trip to Towson, Md., on the line.

For the five seniors on the team, Saturday’s game will mark the final time they step onto Lakeside Field wearing the purple and white. Dowd is one goal shy of former NU player Hilary Bowen’s record for most career NCAA tournament goals, and could set the mark in her last home match.

Beyond the record books, it is one last time for the seniors to perform at the place where many great memories were made. And they plan to make Saturday’s game one to remember.

“I’m going to try to leave my mark on this field, and I hope the team can do that as well,” Spencer said. “If it’s going to be my last game here and for the seniors, we definitely don’t want to finish with a loss or a poor performance. We want to come out strong on Saturday.”

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