Lacrosse: Northwestern continues road challenges with Duke

Rohan Nadkarni

As big of a test as No. 1 Northwestern’s season opener against No. 6 Stanford on the road was, the schedule arguably gets tougher for the Wildcats this Sunday. NU (1-0) travels to North Carolina to face No. 5 Duke.

The Blue Devils (2-1) will also enter a Friday matchup with Richmond, coming off a loss to No. 19 Vanderbilt.

In the first two games of its season, Duke hammered Bucknell and William & Mary by a combined score of 43-12. Before the Blue Devils’ 7-5 loss to the Commodores, the high-powered offense had scored at least 18 goals in each game,

Duke’s offense is led by senior attacker Emma Hamm. Hamm was named a Tewaaraton Trophy finalist last year after scoring 51 goals and collecting 25 assists. Another boost to the team’s offense has come from true freshman Kerrin Maurer. The first-year attacker has six goals and eight assists in three games, including two goals in her last game.

The Blue Devils’ long-standing success means the team is accustomed to playing against top-quality opponents. Duke has made 15 straight NCAA tournaments, the third-longest streak in the country.

Last year, Duke and NU played in an instant classic in Evanston. The Cats were down three goals in the second half before mounting a comeback, going on a 7-2 run to give the Cats a 12-10 victory.

In NU’s first game of the season last weekend, the offense looked in midseason form, scoring 18 goals en route to victory, snapping Stanford’s 22-game home winning streak. Coach Kelly Amonte-Hiller said she hopes to bring that energy against the Blue Devils.

“We did some really nice things,” Amonte-Hiller said. “We were getting the 50-50 balls, and we did a great job on draws. I think if we can do some of that at Duke we’ll be able to put ourselves in a position to make plays.”

Although early in the season, keeping a high energy level won’t necessarily be a given for NU. For the second week in a row, the Cats must go on the road to face a top-10 opponent.

In fact, after this weekend, the Cats will have played two top-10 teams, and arguably the best team in the world, Team United States, in a three-week span, all away from Evanston.

“It’s a great challenge,” Amonte-Hiller said. “We try to play the toughest schedule we can, try to put our kids in a position where they have to fight and they have to battle and see what they can do.”

The game in Durham, N.C., should be a display of high-powered offenses. The Cats had two players record hat tricks last week – seniors Shannon Smith and Erin Fitzgerald. And even with only five goals in their loss to Vanderbilt, the Blue Devils are averaging 16 goals per game in 2012.

“They have good players all over the field,” Amonte-Hiller said of Duke. “Anyone can score at any time. They’re just a really well-coached team, and they’re going to be tough competition for us.”

The key for NU will be to slow down Duke’s attack while also maintaining its own offensive game plan.

“We’ve been focusing on ourselves,” Amonte-Hiller said. “They have so many different threats we have to be aware of. We just have to make sure we study up and be ready.”

[email protected]