Lacrosse: NU breaks two-game losing streak, shakes Stanford and OSU

Colin Becht

For much of Sunday, it seemed that Shannon Smith might literally beat Stanford single-handedly. In fact, she alone trailed the Cardinal 8-7 with just more than eight minutes remaining in the game.

Instead, it was not Smith’s scoring that proved to be the deciding factor in No. 5 Northwestern’s 12-11 win over No. 7 Stanford, but her distribution.

After scoring seven goals to keep the Wildcats in front of the Cardinal for most of the game, the junior attacker let her passing set up the game-winning goal, scored by junior midfielder Alex Frank with 24.3 seconds left.

“I love passing to Alex,” Smith said. “I know basically everything I throw at her she’s going to catch and usually score.”

Smith, possessing the ball behind the goal, the dangerous position that led to four of her goals, fed Frank as she cut to the goal mouth. Frank was able to quickstick the shot past Stanford goalkeeper Annie Read.

With the assist, Smith increased her point total to eight. Her seven goals tied a career high and set a new season high.

“They tried to do some different things against her, faceguard her,” coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. “She was really able to find her spots.”

She tallied 11 goals on the weekend, contributing four in NU’s 14-11 victory over No. 20 Ohio State. Smith had scored just four in NU’s losses last week to then-No. 6 Florida and Johns Hopkins.

“I kind of took those two losses that we had really personally and I put it upon myself,” Smith said. “I wasn’t happy with how I played. I wasn’t going to be the one to let my teammates down again.”

While NU will certainly be glad to close out its home season with a win, the Cats lacked a killer instinct, consistently allowing Stanford to hang around due to poor finishing and sloppy turnovers, both weaknesses that have plagued the Cats throughout the season.

The Cats blew an 11-8 lead with eight minutes remaining, allowing the Cardinal to tally off three straight goals to tie the game with a minute and a half left. That was the second time Stanford recovered from a three-goal deficit and the fourth advantage NU surrendered.

“We’ll get this momentum, we’ll build up a lead and let them come back,” sophomore defender Taylor Thornton said. “That’s obviously a work in progress.”

Though Smith had no trouble finding the back of the cage, her teammates offered little support with only one first-half goal. The Cats scored on just 12 of 32 shots for a .375 shooting percentage, well below their .468 percentage entering Sunday’s contest. Removing Smith’s 7-of-14 shooting performance drops NU to .278.

“We just need to get better quality shots,” Smith said. “We’ve got to really nail down that shooting percentage.”

Shaky passing also allowed the Cardinal back into the game. An errant pass with less than five minutes remaining by junior midfielder Jessica Russo, who had four turnovers in the game, set up Stanford attacker-midfielder Sarah Flynn’s goal that cut the Cardinal’s deficit to one. Stanford caused only four of NU’s 11 turnovers.

Luckily for NU, the offense created so many chances that even poor finishing and unforced errors could not doom the Cats. NU took advantage of a tightly refereed game by drawing a cornucopia of fouls inside the fan, leading to free positions. The Cats converted on five of their 10 free position shots, with Smith, Frank and senior midfielder Colleen Magarity the only NU players to score non-free-position goals.

Smith dominated the first half, scoring the first three goals of the game in just more than 10 minutes. The Cats defense held firm for the opening 15 minutes as the Cardinal got their second shot off 13 minutes and 24 seconds into the game, neither of those two shots finding the frame of the goal.

But the Cardinal offense, second in the NCAA in scoring, would not remain quiet for long, rattling off three quick goals to tie the game at three and then scoring again to trail 5-4 at halftime.

When NU built a 7-5 lead, Stanford responded again with a run to tie the game on two easy goals.

“They definitely were able to execute some things at the end of the game, and we’re going to have to look at that,” Amonte Hiller said. “We’re excited about how we came out, but we definitely need to be able to sustain that defensive effort throughout the whole entire game.”

Goalie Brianne LoManto finished with three saves, though her defense often left her with little chance as the Cardinal regularly found themselves with both time and space right in front of the crease.

Thornton said the Cats suffered from poor communication, allowing Stanford attackers to find holes in the defense.

“Who’s sliding?” Thornton said. “Who’s going?”

Though Stanford had made a habit of bouncing back from deficits, NU finally made sure it protected its lead after Frank’s game-winner, controlling the ensuing draw before running out the clock.

“The positive out of today is that we showed resilience and that we’re growing and becoming a more mentally stronger team,” Thornton said. “Hopefully in the future, we’ll be able to build off our lead.”

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