Lacrosse: Northwestern not taking anything for granted headed in ALC Tournament

Dan Ryan

Northwestern has been the only champion the ALC Tournament has ever known. For the last five years, the Wildcats have hoisted the trophy regardless of what happened during the regular season. Now more than ever, the rest of the conference is gunning for the defending national champions. “It’s very important,” junior midfielder Taylor Thornton said. “We have a long history and tradition of doing very well, and it’s something that we take pride in. It’s important that we do well, so we can hopefully get into the NCAA bracket. It’s a big weekend and we’re all really excited for it.” No. 1 NU (16-1, 4-1 ALC) opens the weekend with six-seeded and No. 19 Johns Hopkins (8-8, 1-4) in the second round of the tournament on Friday in Gainesville, Fla. During the regular season meeting between these two teams, the Blue Jays staged a furious rally in the second half to tie the game at 11. NU went on a run of its own to stave off the upset, but Johns Hopkins put up a fight. In preparing for the Blue Jays, Thornton said the Cats must adjust to the one-and-done nature of tournament play. “It’s a lot different because you realize that tomorrow night is the only game that’s guaranteed for the rest of the season,” Thornton said. “And so we’ve been very focused in practice. We’re working hard. We’re not trying to force, but you just got to go into it and say, ‘Hey, today could be my last day.’ It’s a big driving factor for a lot of us.” The University of Florida is hosting this year’s tournament, and it was the Gators who upset the Cats 8-7 at Lakeside Field on April 21, stunning NU and handing it the only blemish on its season. Though Thornton said it would be nice to play Florida in the finals, she stressed that the team isn’t looking any further ahead than Friday. “(Playing Florida would) be great, but we definitely can’t look past our game (Friday),” Thornton said. “Right now we’re really just focused on playing Hopkins.” Thornton was named the ALC Player of the Year on Wednesday, a year removed from bringing home IWLCA Division I Defender of the Year honors in 2011. The do-it-all midfielder followed up her stellar sophomore campaign with a career-high 23 goals and conference-high 42 ground balls this season. Thornton said no one was as surprised as she to hear the news. “It shocked me,” Thornton said “It’s such a big honor, and I’m really grateful for it, but I know I wouldn’t have gotten it if it hadn’t been for my teammates. But I was just very shocked.” After giving the season a B-plus after the team’s regular season finale against Virginia, coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said the keys to exacting revenge and winning a sixth-consecutive title starts with practice. “Great teams start with defense,” Amonte Hiller said last week. “We’re doing that well. We’re really trying to focus in on our draw controls and our offensive effectiveness. Just really amping up our game in terms of the level of focus that we have and the level of motivation that we have is really important.” [email protected]edu