Lacrosse: Northwestern begins title defense with road test at No. 6 Stanford

Rohan Nadkarni

The quest for seven begins now.

No. 1 Northwestern, winner of six of the last seven national championships, kicks off its season and title defense on the road against No. 6 Stanford on Friday.

The Cardinal enter the game riding one of the nation’s most impressive home winning streaks with 22 straight wins at Cagan Stadium. Stanford’s last loss at its home site came against Syracuse three years ago.

However, the Cats have won six straight against the Cardinal, including a win in Stanford, Calif., in 2010. That game was played at Varsity Turf field, which allowed the Cardinal to maintain their winning streak at Cagan.

“This will be the third year in the row that we play them,” goalie Brianne LoManto said. “I definitely think they’ve been more of a rival because we’ve had some close games with them.”

Last year’s game in Evanston was not decided until the final 30 seconds, when then-junior Shannon Smith, having already scored seven goals, assisted on Alex Frank’s game winner to give NU a 12-11 win.

Preparation for the Stanford game began this week with the team holding a film session after Wednesday’s practice. The mild weather in the Chicago area has also allowed the team to grow accustomed to playing outside.

“Being outside definitely is awesome,” assistant coach Ann Elliott said. “Being outside allows us to play on a full field and allows us to practice a lot of different things that we couldn’t necessarily inside.”

Last weekend, the Cats participated in the Champion Challenge, facing the England and United States national lacrosse teams in exhibition matches. NU went 1-1 in the competitions, defeating England 9-3 but falling to Team USA 16-6.

With the quick turnaround from the Champion Challenge, the focus in practice was on NU’s approach rather than installing a specific game plan for Stanford.

“Really the focus has been on ourselves,” coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. “We want to make sure that we’re fine-tuning the things that we didn’t do well and just get better. It’s always interesting at the beginning of the year. (There’s) not a huge amount of scouting that goes into it.”

NU’s approach has been to make sure that the little things that can turn a game are in order before going on the road to face a top-10 opponent. A theme in practice was for the Cats to establish their own game before reacting to the opponent.

“They’re going to be throwing different things at us,” LoManto said. “For us, it’s stick with what we have and not change our game plan to what they’re doing. If we have to change something, then we will come game time.”

On a larger scale, the season opener marks the next chapter in the Cats’ impressive feat of national dominance. NU is returning 10 starters from last year’s NCAA championship team, including Smith, last year’s TewaaratonAward winner.

Although some championship teams may lack motivation, players and coaches all seemed equally excited to start the season and begin their title defense.

“It’s really exciting,” Amonte Hiller said. “Now it’s game time, and we just need to go out there and test the waters.”

Even seniors with two national titles are looking forward to the season’s start.

“I’m really excited,” LoManto said. “Obviously it’s my last year playing competitive lacrosse. For me, it’s ‘Give it every single thing I have.’ I know the senior class is really looking forward to this as our year.”

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