Lacrosse: NU looks to turn defeat into drive

Colin Becht

Northwestern may be coming off its first two-game losing streak since 2003, but the Wildcats’ mood is anything but panicked. Alert and vengeful, yes, but not flustered.

“We’re mad and pissed about our losses,” junior attacker Shannon Smith said. “That’s making us have that inner strength and inner drive inside of us, and we’re really pushing each other.”

NU dropped both its games last week, falling to then-No. 6 Florida 13-11 last Thursday followed by a 12-11 loss to unranked Johns Hopkins. The pair of losses knocked the Cats from No. 2 in the rankings to No. 5.

“They’re fighting back,” coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. “Obviously no team likes to lose and let alone lose two games in a row. For us it’s definitely a wakeup call when we do lose because we don’t lose that often.”

The Cats are trying to spin the defeats into a learning experience, appreciating the fact that their wakeup call came in the regular season rather than in the American Lacrosse Conference Tournament or the NCAA Tournament.

“Anytime that you have a setback, you hope that there’s growth. That’s the key to being successful long term,” Amonte Hiller said. “You have to be able to be resilient, and you have to be able to grow from it.”

Smith said offensively NU is focusing on finishing its shots, a flaw that has haunted the Cats recently. NU has scored on 46.8 percent of its shots this season, but has shot below 40 percent in three of its last five games, including both losses.

“We need to increase our shooting percentage by a lot,” Smith said. “In order for us to do that, we need to have good possessions out there. We need to get open shots.”

In addition to creating better looks for shots, junior midfielder Alex Frank said the Cats can do more to make sure their shots flummox opposing goaltenders.

“Making a fake here or there and get the goalie moving, you’re going to put the ball away,” Frank said.

Sophomore defender Taylor Thornton said she thinks putting the undefeated season behind can ensure the Cats have a successful conclusion to their season.

“(We are) not fearing the fact that ‘Oh, we can’t lose,’ but just going out there and playing,” Thornton said. “We don’t have anything to lose and just kind of see how we do with our backs against the wall.”

NU’s road to redemption begins Friday against No. 20 Ohio State. Though the Buckeyes are the second-lowest ranked team NU will have played in its past six games, the Cats know not to get caught looking ahead. Johns Hopkins was not even ranked.

“There’s no looking over any game in my book,” Amonte Hiller said. “We go to every game like it’s the most important game.”

Although not among the elite teams in the NCAA, Ohio State (8-5, 1-2) will bring some offensive firepower into Evanston. Midfielder Alayna Markwordt and attacker Brittney Zerhusen rank seventh and tie for 14th in points per game in the NCAA with averages of 4.77 and 4.31 points per game, respectively.

Still, the bigger challenge for the NU defense will come on Sunday when NU takes on No. 7 Stanford (14-1). The Cardinal has had no trouble finding the back of the cage all season, averaging 16.5 goals per game, second best in the country.

Stanford has no player among the top 60 in the NCAA in points but accumulates goals in bunches due to a highly balanced offense that features seven players with 25 points or more. Attacker Sarah Flynn and midfielder Leslie Foard lead that multifaceted offense with a combined 100 points.

“As long as we can stop people 1-v.-1, which is one of our big focuses and what we’ve been working on a lot this week, I think we can shut them down,” Thornton said.

Although the Cardinal is the higher-ranked of NU’s two weekend opponents, Amonte Hiller said her mindset is fully on the Buckeyes for now.

“Right now we’re focused on Ohio State,” she said. “We really haven’t even spoken about Stanford, and we’ll not until this Friday night game is over.”

Playing with a losing streak looming over their heads is unfamiliar territory for the Cats, but Amonte Hiller is anxious for the challenge.

“You need to be defined by how you respond,” she said. “It’s not going to be easy, but nothing good comes easy.”

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