Lacrosse: Motivated Northwestern blasts past Notre Dame

Rohan Nadkarni

Notre Dame must hate the University of Florida right now.

Coming off their first loss of the season against the Gators, a supremely motivated No. 1 Northwestern (15-1) squad dismantled the No. 6 Fighting Irish (12-3) 17-7 on Wednesday. The Wildcats cruised in their second-to-last game, essentially ending the game in the first half.

The contest started grimly for NU, with Notre Dame jumping out to a 1-0 lead. The start mirrored recent games against North Carolina and Florida in which the Cats fell behind early.

However, not wanting to repeat its mistakes, NU kept its foot on the pedal for the entire game, putting away the Fighting Irish early with 12 first-half goals.

“We were aggressive and the girls were focused in practice this week,” coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. “They really wanted to take the flow, play together as a team, and I think they did a great job with that.”

After Notre Dame opened the scoring, the Cats roared back with five straight goals. Senior attacker Shannon Smith assisted on the first two, including junior Erin Fitzgerald’s first goal of the game. Fitzgerald scored three more before the half ended.

“(Smith) may not have had a goal, but she was an integral part of almost every goal (in the first half),” Amonte Hiller said. “She draws so much attention that even when she doesn’t score she’s a pivotal part of our offense.”

Besides Fitzgerald and Smith, NU received contributions from a variety of players. Sophomores Kelly Rich and Kara Mupo notched two goals each in the opening 30 minutes, with a host of other players scoring goals as well.

Junior Taylor Thornton had an especially impressive tally, running past the entire Notre Dame team and firing a close-range shot to put the home team ahead 7-2.

Clearly playing with a different energy than in their past games, the Cats outshot the Fighting Irish 22-11 in the first period and won 11 out of 15 draws. NU’s 12 first-half goals were more than the team scored in two of their past three games.

“When you have a loss like that (against Florida) it shocks your system a little bit,” Amonte Hiller said. “You get a little more sense of urgency with everything. I don’t think you ever like to lose, but hopefully we can respond.”

Once the second half got underway, the match evened out slightly. The Fighting Irish scored four goals compared to five for the Cats.

After dishing out three assists in the first half, Smith made her way into the goals column in the next 30 minutes, scoring twice to give her five points for the night.

NU finished with nine saves as a team, playing two goalies after giving senior Brianne LoManto some rest midway through the second half. Aiding the Cats’ effort was sloppy play by the Irish defense, which recorded 30 fouls, giving NU 12 shots from eight meters out.

The return to form against a top-10 opponent meant more than just another win to the Cats. With one more game remaining in the regular season, NU can make sure it’s where it needs to be heading into the conference tournament and postseason.

“It’s very important,” Amonte Hiller said. “Anytime you’re nearing the end of your season you want to be sharp. It doesn’t matter if you had a loss or didn’t have a loss. That’s our main focus, being sharp toward the end of our season.”

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