Lacrosse: Northwestern hits road again to take on Syracuse

Rohan Nadkarni

Another week, another road trip.

Although it’s not new for No. 1 Northwestern (2-0) to play games on the road during the winter, the team will embark on its third road trip of the season Wednesday when it battles with No. 9 Syracuse (1-1) in Syracuse, N.Y. The Wildcats’ bout with the Orange will be the final game before NU’s home opener March 3.

“It’s always a challenge to go up and play there,” coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. “(But) it’s pretty standard. It’s not something that we’re not used to; this is what we do every year.”

Syracuse will be the third top-10 opponent NU has faced this season. The Orange have played a tough schedule as well, splitting games against two top-15 opponents, No. 12 Boston College and No. 10 Virginia.

The Orange’s offense put on a fireworks display in a 23-12 victory over the Eagles – a number of goals the Cats have yet to reach in a single game this year. However, Syracuse came down to earth when it traveled to Charlottesville, Va., to take on the Cavaliers, a game the Orange lost 9-7. Despite the stumble against Virginia, Amonte Hiller is weary of Syracuse’s potential.

“They’re pretty athletic all around, pretty fast,” Amonte Hiller said. “They have some great players that can be really explosive. They’re strong across the board.”

Sophomore Alyssa Murray has been a key contributor for the Orange this year since she opened the season with an 8-goal, 2-assist performance against Boston College.

Slowing down Murray and the Syracuse offense will be NU’s priority, and its defense has met every challenge so far. The Cats are allowing a stingy 5.5 goals a game, limiting two high-ranked opponents to only 5 and 6 goals in each of their first two games.

NU’s defense is led by junior defender Taylor Thornton, who was honored with the American Lacrosse Conference Defensive Player of the Week award for her dominant play in the Cats’ first two games.

“(Thornton’s) really important,” Amonte Hiller said. “We’re expecting a lot from her, both defensively and offensively. We’re expecting her to really impact both sides of the field for us.”

Senior attacker Shannon Smith and junior midfielder Erin Fitzgerald have been leading the charge for NU’s offense this season. Smith, who was named preseason Player of the Year by Lacrosse Magazine, has scored 8 goals in the team’s first two games ­- a hat trick against Stanford and a five-spot against Duke. The reigning Tewaaraton Award winner is on a streak of 47 straight games with either a goal or an assist. Fitzgerald has scored 7 goals on the season so far and is also currently on a streak of 23 games with at least one point.

Even with NU’s star power, Amonte Hiller said the team’s success stems from each individual’s contributions.

“We have been pretty good in getting everyone involved in the scoring,” Amonte Hiller said. “Our defense has been able to shut some top players down. With the exception of the first half of the Duke game, we’ve done pretty well on the draw.”

Overall, the Cats have had the upper hand on the Orange for the better part of the team’s matchups. NU has won 8 straight against Syracuse dating back to 2003.

In last year’s game, the Cats defeated the Orange at home 16-11, with Smith and Fitzgerald scoring a combined 9 goals. The last time the two teams played in the Carrier Dome was in 2008, a game the Cats dominated to the tune of 19-7.