Lacrosse: No. 2 NU surges past No. 8 Penn to complete weekend Quakedown

Colin Becht

Despite a convincing win over a top-10 program Sunday, coach Kelly Amonte Hiller did not want to talk about the positives of Northwestern’s performance.

The No. 2 Wildcats overcame an uneven performance, highlighted at times by careless turnovers and an inability to capitalize on momentum, to defeat No. 8 Pennsylvania 14-10 at Lakeside Field.

Though NU never trailed, the Cats were unable to pull away from the Quakers due to a season-high 21 turnovers. Penn also dominated NU on ground balls, winning 22 of 34 ground balls.

“I still think we need to clean up ground balls,” Amonte Hiller said. “We had draws in our hands a lot of the times, and Penn just fought through and took it away from us. Until we decide to fully commit to that, we won’t be able to pull away from teams.”

Junior midfielder Alex Frank agreed NU had room for improvement on grounders, adding that the Cats simply needed determination.

“It’s just hard work and knowing that anytime that ball’s on the ground, we need to come up with it,” Frank said. “It’s our ball no matter what. Ground balls are 50-50 and if we come up with that 50-50, then we’re going to be successful in the game.”

NU still managed to be successful on Sunday despite losing badly on ground balls because of its prolific offense, ranked third in the NCAA in goals per game.

The NU offense demonstrated no trouble scoring in bursts, despite facing the nation’s fourth-best defense in goals allowed.

Sophomore midfielder Ali Cassera scored her first hat trick of the season, while the nation’s point leader, junior attacker Shannon Smith, tallied three points, including two goals. Freshman Kara Mupo continued her hot streak, scoring twice in the first half to give her six goals in NU’s last three games.

The Cats scored the first four goals of the game, a contrast to their previous two contests, in which they were plagued by slow starts.

“Anytime you want to start off strong like that,” Amonte Hiller said. “Now we just need to figure out how we want to maintain it.”

NU scored in short runs throughout the game, much like with the first four goals. The Cats scored three straight to end the half along with two more runs of three goals in the second half.

“When we were moving the ball and we were taking our time, it was really working for us,” freshman Alyssa Leonard said. “We moved the goalie, we took our time and we were poised. That’s when it worked.”

However, in between these spurts of offense, the Cats mustered little and allowed the Quakers back into the game.

“They did a great job of getting the ball and pushing it back at us,” Frank said. “For us, that just means we need to dig deep even more and get that extra stop or get that extra ground ball.”

After NU opened up its 4-0 lead, Penn came back with the next three goals. Though NU seemed well in control at halftime, up 7-3, Penn scored four straight to open the second half and tie the game. Only when the Cats opened up a 12-8 lead with just less than 14 minutes to play were they finally able to prevent a corresponding run from the Quakers.

“Coming up with ground balls towards the end there was a huge, huge boost,” Frank said. “That really helps us transition with the ball.”

Still, Amonte Hiller remained troubled that NU wasn’t able to capitalize on its earlier runs to open a comfortable lead.

Frank said she could only hope that contentment was not setting in when the Cats opened their leads throughout the game.

“We don’t want to be complacent at any time, we want to play the full 60 minutes,” she said. “Once we do have a lead, it’s not enough. You need to keep going and keep pushing. It’s not until the game is over that we’re done with that game.”

Luckily for the Cats, with each counter-run from the Quakers, the NU offense tallied up more goals to maintain the lead. Those goals often came in quick succession because of the Cats’ dominance off the draw. NU beat Penn 19-7 on draw controls, led by Leonard’s eight, two short of her career-high.

“It’s nice when you have your whole team around you, helping you out, just as far as boxing out, making it easier for me to get the ball to myself,” Leonard said. “(Penn midfielder Maddie Poplawski and I) kind of had a hard time getting set up a little bit. She was pulling really hard, but coach always says stick to your own game.”

Though Amonte Hiller seemed less than thrilled with her team’s overall performance on Sunday, she said NU’s success on the draw was critical to its winning result.

“We wouldn’t have been able to win the game without that advantage,” Amonte Hiller said.

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