Lacrosse: Northwestern seniors make final home game memorable

Dan Ryan

When senior defender Alex Frank won a draw control in the waning minutes of Northwestern’s game against No. 9 Virginia on Saturday, she had no plans of giving up the ball.

And with one minute and 11 seconds left on senior day, she sprinted towards the Virginia zone, launched a shot from the top of the fan, and scored her first point of the season.

Frank’s goal was the icing on the cake for the Wildcats as they took down the Cavaliers 13-6 in front of 1,034 fans who came to support NU’s six seniors at their last regular season game at Lakeside Field.

For Frank, the game could hardly have been better.

“I kind of wanted a goal all season, like finishing my senior year,” Frank said. “I’ve played midfield my whole career, whole life. So I was kind of like, ‘Senior year, not get one point? I just want something.’ And when I got that drive and no one was in front of me, I was just like straight to the goal.”

“People were like, ‘You definitely weren’t going to pass it,'” Frank joked.

In the first half, however, the game looked like anything but a successful farewell for NU’s seniors. The Cavaliers played stifling defense, keeping the Cats off the board for the first 20 minutes of play, and converted on two free position attempts en route to a 3-0 lead.

NU got on the board with a free position goal of its own by junior midfielder Ali Cassera, but goals were few and far between for the Cats, who entered halftime down 4-2 despite outshooting the Cavaliers 13-6 in the opening frame.

Coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said the missed opportunities come with staying aggressive on the attack.

“You have to play fearless. You have to be OK with making some mistakes when you fast break,” Amonte Hiller said. “And that’s something that we’re trying to continue to work with.”

The Cats turned it on in the second half, however.

It took NU one minute and 20 seconds to record its first goal of the final frame. One minute later, the Cats tied the game at four. Another minute, and sophomore attacker Kara Mupo gave NU its first lead of the game. Despite a short-lived Cavaliers rally, Virginia simply couldn’t hold up against NU’s onslaught.

NU’s defense was overpowering in the second half as well, allowing only two goals and forcing eight turnovers. So dominant was the Cats’ stop unit that Virginia attacker and Tewaaraton Award nominee Josie Owen was held scoreless for the first time all year, breaking a streak of 38 consecutive games with a point.

“We build our gameplan, and if we feel like we want to take one of their bigger threats out, we choose to do that,” Amonte Hiller said. “It depends on how the team plays and what we see as their strengths and weaknesses.”

The Cats end the season at 16-1, good for second in the ALC, and ranking in the top-10 in Division I in both scoring offense and defense. Only a loss to then-No. 5 Florida kept NU from running the table during regular season and finishing atop the ALC.

Despite her team’s success. Amonte Hiller, who described herself as a “tough grader,” said the Cats’ performance left room for improvement.

“I would say (the season overall was) a B-plus maybe,” Amonte Hiller said. “We have still a lot of improving, and we’re not perfect,”

With the regular season now complete, NU turns its attention to the ALC Tournament and its first round matchup against the winner of the Johns Hopkins-Penn State game. But before leaving the field and looking ahead, senior midfielder Shannon Smith reflected on her four years with the program.

“It’s (been) an incredible journey, an incredible ride,” Smith said. “But hopefully our season isn’t over, and we can get another home game her. But just the practicing here, the team. It’s just incredible. You get an incredible view, incredible crowd that comes out here, so it’s been a great experience.”

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