Lacrosse: NU title hopes take flight vs. Eagles

Colin Becht

On a nice day, Lakeside Field can look quite picturesque, the crisp, blue water of Lake Michigan lapping almost right up to the sideline, the skyline of Chicago visible to south.

Such scenic days are rare. However, it may be the extreme unpredictability of the elements at Lakeside Field that make the outcomes of women’s lacrosse games so very predictable.

“We’ve definitely experienced every type of weather. We’ve played in snow, rain, everything,” senior midfielder Brooke Matthews said. “It makes us more mentally tough.”

With the exception of an 18-16 loss to then-No. 2 North Carolina last year, Northwestern hasn’t lost a home game since 2004. The Wildcats have compiled a 70-1 record in Evanston since falling to Vanderbilt in overtime on May 6, 2004.

While that record has a lot to do with NU’s overall domination over the past seven years, the .986 home win percentage adds to the intimidation factor of taking on the No. 2 Cats at Lakeside Field.

“No one really likes to travel to the Midwest. It’s not a lacrosse hotbed like Maryland or New York,” junior goaltender Brianne LoManto said.

Add to the strains of travel the blustery conditions, and it’s enough to disrupt even the most resilient of opponents.

“It is the wind, and that’s huge when it comes to communication,” LoManto said. “If you can’t communicate, you can’t hear because of the wind. It’s a pretty big disadvantage. We’ve gotten used to yelling a little bit louder, going closer to each other to communicate certain things.”

The elements in Evanston are even capable of springing surprises, as evidenced by Wednesday’s practice, which began in sunshine and heat before ending as rain began to fall and lightning approached.

“We’re always ready for all factors,” coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. “We always have a couple jackets in the car, a couple extra pairs of pants.”

Beyond simply unsettling opponents, LoManto said the weather can actually change the gameplay, forcing players to contemplate slipping on the wet turf before trying to make a quick cut to the goal. Rain can also affect the netting of the sticks.

“The biggest thing is probably the other team’s pockets,” LoManto said. “They tend to get a little bit bigger, and that may affect the shot.”

Though rain is in the forecast for Saturday when NU takes on No. 13 Boston College in the first round of the NCAA Championships, Amonte Hiller said there’s too much at stake in postseason play to count on weather to hinder the Eagles.

“At this point in the season when you’re in the tournament, you’ve got to give it your all, and you can’t let a couple of rain drops or some hail ruin your one opportunity,” she said. “I don’t think it’s going to make or break.”

Instead the Cats are focused on penetrating a Boston College defense that allowed just 9.22 goals per game this season. The Eagles’ defense is anchored by goalie Sheila Serafino, who has posted a .446 save percentage.

NU notched two of its better shooting percentages of the season in the American Lacrosse Conference Tournament, scoring on half of its shots against Penn State and 10 of 22 in the conference final against Florida.

“It’s just a matter of the quality of the opportunity,” Amonte Hiller said. “Now we’re starting to really come up with some good opportunities. And if we don’t shoot well in the first five minutes, we’re not letting it get to us.”

Though Saturday’s matchup will be the first official meeting of the two teams since the Cats regained varsity status in 2002, NU and Boston College did scrimmage this past fall.

“They’re very athletic.They have good team speed,” Amonte Hiller said. But shecautioned, “They’ve obviously progressed a lot since then and so have we.”

The Eagles are led up front by midfielder Kristin Igoe and attacker Brittany Wilton who combined for 81 goals and 33 assists this season.

“They’ve definitely got some big guns,” Amonte Hiller said.

By being the second seed in the tournament, NU earned hosting rights for both its first and second round games, giving the Cats a nice rest after trips to Tennessee and Virginia in its past two weekends.

“We have to travel so much throughout the season,” Amonte Hiller said. “Our trip to Virginia felt like we were going halfway around the world. We took a flight to Atlanta and then here. Just to have that break and be able to have a home game is huge. The thought of traveling (on Thursday), which BC is doing, that’s not an appealing thought to me.”

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