Lacrosse: Mupo proves her net worth in goals during freshman campaign

Colin Becht

Kara Mupo’s career in lacrosse began by accident – or more accurately, by force.

“I played soccer all my life,” Mupo said. “Then my varsity coach pretty much told me that if I didn’t play lacrosse, I was not going to be on varsity soccer anymore.”

So in eighth grade, Mupo begrudgingly picked up a lacrosse stick to appease her soccer coach who also coached the lacrosse team.

“I was pretty much forced,” Mupo said, “but (it was a) good decision.”

A good decision indeed as the freshman attacker has quickly emerged as one of the rising stars in the Northwestern lacrosse dynasty.

Mupo was named the American Lacrosse Conference’s Rookie of the Week last week and has scored six goals in her past three games.

“She’s gained more and more confidence each game,” assistant coach Scott Hiller said. “She’s basically doing kind of what we expected her to do when we brought her in here as one of the top recruits in the country.”

Though Mupo may have began playing lacrosse years after most of her fellow competitors, she adapted quickly, scoring 330 goals in high school, the fourth most in New York state history.

“Nowadays that seems crazy because everyone starts (playing) in first grade, second grade, but she just picked it up,” junior goaltender Brianne LoManto said. “Her work ethic definitely defines her.”

Because of Mupo’s intense commitment, LoManto, who has played sports with Mupo since Mupo was in fourth grade and played lacrosse with her in high school, said she was not at all surprised with Mupo’s early success at the collegiate level.

“(Mupo) has always played up,” LoManto said. “She never gets complacent, and she always wants to be better than she is. She’s been doing that since she was in fourth grade, playing with people who were five years older than her.”

Mupo has made up for her experience with dedication and an understanding of the hard work needed to compete against older players. On Tuesday she remained on the field long after most other players had packed up their gear and left, working on her finishing with junior Jessica Russo and fellow freshman Misha Beatty.

“In high school, it’s kind of intimidating at some points, but she doesn’t really get intimidated,” LoManto said. “She knows that everything is competitive here and it doesn’t matter what year you are as long as you work hard.”

Mupo’s extra work has paid dividends in the stat sheet as she is sixth on NU in points with 15 goals and two assists.

The No. 2 Wildcats will likely need Mupo to continue her scoring streak on Thursday as they take on No. 6 Florida in Gainesville, Fla. The Gators bring to the contest an explosive offense, led by the nation’s leading goal-scorer, midfielder Kitty Cullen. Cullen has scored 61 goals on the season, giving her an absurd average of 4.69 goals per game.

“Cullen, from Florida, goes very aggressively to the goal,” Hiller said. “She’s got one speed and she’s very talented.”

Hiller said that it would take more than just one standout defensive effort to contain Cullen and that the entire defense would have to commit to shutting her down.

“As long as we can buy into our system and execute our game plan, we’re not going to let one person take our whole defense,” LoManto said. “We have seven people compared to their one person.”

With Cullen and Northwestern junior attacker Shannon Smith on the same field, Thursday’s matchup will feature two of the NCAA’s top three in points per game. Smith tops Cullen with an average of 6.00 points per game to Cullen’s 5.08. However, while over 92 percent of Cullen’s points come from goals, Smith scores 1.4 goals for each of her assists.

“It makes you a lot more diverse,” Hiller said of Smith’s ability to distribute while still attacking the cage. “People have to worry about if they’re sliding on you, if you’re just going to dish the ball to somebody else.”

Smith, Mupo and the rest of the NU attack will have to deal with Florida goaltender Mikey Meagher, who was named the ALC’s Defensive Player of the Week for her career-high 13-save performance in the Gators’ 14-10 win over Johns Hopkins on Saturday.

“Her confidence is going to be pretty high, but a hot goaltender is something our team is pretty used to by now,” LoManto said. “For us, it doesn’t always matter who the goalie is as long as we know what we can do, and that’s to put the ball in the back of the net.”

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