Lacrosse: Cats need to pounce on ranked Pennsylvania foes

Dan Ryan

When Northwestern (10-0, 2-0 ALC) rallied from a four-goal deficit last Saturday to defeat No. 14 Ohio State 13-12 in overtime, the fact that the Buckeyes pushed the Wildcats to the brink of their first loss of the year elicited a fair amount of surprise.

Being as successful as NU has been over the last decade will do that.

Even with the win, two tough road contests looming on the schedule this weekend for the Cats, against No. 12 Penn State and rival No. 8 Penn, caused slight concern for NU after they narrowly escaped Gillette Stadium with a victory.

Senior defender Lacey Vigmostad said the Cats didn’t live up to their potential against the Buckeyes.

“We didn’t play our best throughout the game, especially in the first half,” Vigmostad said. “We didn’t come out strong, and we had talked the week before about (that). It’s frustrating to not play our best. It’s not so much frustrating to go into an overtime win – Ohio State was a great team – but to not play our best is the frustrating part.”

NU will need to be firing on all cylinders this weekend as it plays conference foe Penn State Friday before facing off against the rival Quakers Sunday.

“Right now we’re just focused on Penn State,” Vigmostad said. “(It’s a) conference game, so it definitely heightens the excitement. They always come out and play really strong against us.”

Last season, NU shut out the then-No. 15 Nittany Lions for the final 34 minutes of play en route to a 14-3 victory in Evanston. This season, under second-year coach Missy Doherty, the Nittany Lions are off to an 8-3 start, including victories over then-No. 6 Virginia and then-No. 8 Vanderbilt.

Coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said playing in Happy Valley presents an added challenge for the Cats.

“Penn State, it’s a conference opponent,” Amonte Hiller said. “They’re really strong. They’re having a great season. They’ve upset some tough teams, and going on the road is always a challenge … It’s a tough trip.”

After finishing up its conference matchup, NU turns its attention to Penn, a team the Cats have gotten well acquainted with in recent years. NU defeated Penn in the 2008 National Championship game as well as in the 2007 and 2009 national semifinal games. Last season, the Cats pulled away from the Quakers in the second-half, winning 14-10.

“We’ve got a big history with Penn, great rivalry,” Amonte Hiller said. “They have a great coach and some great personnel on their team. I know they’ve been battling with some injuries lately, but they’re a really strong team. We’re looking for a great game on Sunday.”

With the back-to-back ranked opponents on NU’s last road trip of the season, Amonte Hiller said the weekend will provide a good measurement of where her squad is heading into the final month of regular season play.

“To add on Penn to that on Sunday, it’s going to be a really tough challenge for us,” Amonte Hiller said. “And that’s what we like at this point in the season, to see where we’re at. We want to see how our girls can respond to that type of challenge, traveling and handling two teams.”

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