Lacrosse: Northwestern looks to shut down North Carolina and Johns Hopkins

Dan Ryan

Northwestern has faced many tough opponents this season and has come out on top every time. In fact, the Wildcats really have been tested only twice this year.

That may change Friday.

No. 1 NU (12-0, 3-0 ALC) hosts No. 3 North Carolina (13-1, 5-0 ACC) and No. 19 Johns Hopkins (7-5, 0-2 ALC) this weekend to begin the five-game home stand that will close out its regular season.

After back-to-back demolitions of Penn State and Penn last weekend, the Cats face arguably their toughest test of the year in the Tar Heels. North Carolina has been on a tear this season on their way to clinching the Atlantic Coast Conference, including a 14-11 victory over then-No. 3 Maryland, NU’s biggest rival in the last couple of years, and a 15-6 rout of then-No. 7 Penn. The team’s only blemish of the season was a 9-8 loss to then-No. 15 Georgetown.

“They’re a great team, definitely going to be a really big challenge,” sophomore attacker Kara Mupo said. “It’s really exciting to have them come here on our home field. It should be a great game. They’ve had a great start to their season.”

North Carolina has risen to the top of the ACC largely on the strength of its defense, which ranks No. 1 in the NCAA, giving up a paltry 6.71 goals per game. The Tar Heels’ attack, led by Laura Zimmerman (33 goals) and Abbey Friend (43 goals), is dangerous as well, ranking 19th in the nation with 13.57 goals per game.

“UNC has a very high-powered offense,” senior attacker Shannon Smith said. “And they have great attackers, so it’s going to be a challenge for our defense. But we also have a challenge on the offensive end because they do have such a great defense and a great goalie.”

A rivalry has sprouted between NU and UNC in recent years. Last season NU won the regular season meeting between the two teams 7-6 in overtime before taking the postseason rematch 11-10 to advance to the NCAA Championship.

“UNC is a great team. We’ve had the opportunity to play them a lot over the last couple years, both in the regular season and in the playoffs,” assistant coach Ann Elliot said. “They have a lot of weapons on attack. They have a solid defense, very well coached. And they always come out hard.”

The Cats, fresh off their destruction of two ranked opponents, are the last undefeated team in Division I women’s lacrosse and present the Tar Heels with an opportunity for a statement win. However, Smith said having a target on their backs only drives the Cats to work harder.

“No matter what, teams are going to be gunning for you,” Smith said. “For us, that’s exciting, and it challenges us to keep working hard day in and day out at practice and putting that extra work in just to maintain where you are. We’re all competitive here, so it’s fun for us. We like the pressure. It makes you play at a higher level.”

On Sunday after the showdown against North Carolina, NU will take on Johns Hopkins, a team the Cats lost to last season. Despite the opportunity for revenge, Smith said she was only focused on Friday’s game.

“For right now, I don’t really have any thoughts on Johns Hopkins,” Smith said. “I haven’t even looked at them. I’m really just focused on UNC.”

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