Lacrosse: Cats brush off ALC Championship loss, aim for seventh NCAA title

Dan Ryan

It’s been a year of firsts for Northwestern, and the word ‘change’ is the last thing a team that has captured six out of the last seven national titles wants to hear.

For the first time, the Wildcats failed to win the ALC Tournament this year, and by losing to then-No. 3 Gators 14-7 in the championship game, NU also lost to the same team twice in one season for the first time in program history. Not exactly what coach Kelly Amonte Hiller’s squad had in mind leading up to the year.

“I think that at the end of the day, we just didn’t work hard and we weren’t playing off of one another,” senior attacker Shannon Smith said. “We didn’t put our full effort into that game like we should have. Florida is a great team. They had a great game plan. They have great coaches. They are very athletic. They showed up to play, and they deserved to win.”

The Cats must now dust themselves off after their worst loss since 2003, when they lost to Syracuse by 11 points, and focus on the NCAA Tournament. Despite NU’s frustrations against Florida, it is seeded No. 2 in the bracket and remains dangerous because of its sheer talent. First up is a rematch with unseeded Notre Dame on Saturday in Evanston.

The Fighting Irish boast the 14th-best attack in the nation, averaging 13.76 goals per game. Despite Notre Dame’s dangerous offense, the Cats had little trouble dispatching the Fighting Irish when the teams met during the regular season, dominating on both sides of the ball en route to a 17-7 victory.

Amonte Hiller, however, said the Notre Dame squad that arrives in Evanston on Saturday might not be the same team that fell so easily almost three weeks ago.

“They’ve got great athletes right across the board,” Amonte Hiller said. “We’ve played them pretty recently so it should be another great game. They played Loyola in the Big East Championship so we are aware of those games and we were watching them. They definitely have grown in just a short time, so we’ll make sure that we are up-to-date on what they are doing.”

Looking past Notre Dame, NU figures to have a tough road to the championship if it wants to maintain its dominance and get revenge against the Gators. The Cats have a potential second-round matchup with Duke followed by a possible semifinal showdown with Maryland, whom NU defeated in last year’s finals.

Smith said regardless of seeding and draw, the Cats should be happy to be in the tournament and remain focused on winning.

“Seeding doesn’t matter,” Smith said. “It’s just a good opportunity to be in the tournament itself. There are 16 Division I teams in the country left right now, so that’s an accomplishment right there. No matter what seed we would have gotten or any seed that any team in the country would have gotten, they would have been happy with.”

Junior midfielder Taylor Thornton said for now, NU needs to use the loss against Florida in the ALC Championship to fuel its preparation for the tournament.

“Everyone needed to look at themselves and ask, ‘What can I do right now and in the next seven days to prepare for our first round of the tournament?'” Thornton said. “Whether that’s self-reflection, putting in time after practice, or whatever it is, everyone just needs to focus on what they can do to get better.”

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