Lacrosse: Northwestern heads South to take on No. 5 North Carolina, Vanderbilt

Senior midfielder Taylor Thornton tries to control the ball during a game against Notre Dame last year. Thornton will lead the No. 1 Wildcats to the south for two more games this weekend.

Daily file photo by Mackenzie McCluer

Senior midfielder Taylor Thornton tries to control the ball during a game against Notre Dame last year. Thornton will lead the No. 1 Wildcats to the south for two more games this weekend.

Ava Wallace, Assistant Sports Editor

Earlier in February, No. 1 Northwestern traveled to Los Angeles and dominated in the West with victories against both the University of Southern California and No. 14 Massachusetts. Now, the Wildcats travel to Chapel Hill, N.C. and Nashville, Tenn. to see if they can conquer in the South.

NU (2-0) takes on No. 5 North Carolina (2-1) on Friday and Vanderbilt (1-3) on Sunday for their second weekend on the road this month.

After scoring a combined 34 goals against their two opponents in Los Angeles, the Cats enter their North Carolina contest with 13 different goal scorers so far this season.

NU has 5 players who have 4 goals under their belts already.

The Tar Heels have 10 different goal scorers for the season so far, and boast attacker Kara Cannizzaro, who leads North Carolina with 8 goals in three games. 

The Tar Heels’ one loss came in their season opener, a close game against NU’s American Lacrosse Conference rival, No.3 Florida. The Gators defeated the Tar Heels 5-3 in an evenly fought contest.

Offensively, the Tar Heels have done well this season. North Carolina matched the Gators in shots taken with 20 a piece, and outshot Towson by 13 attempts and Richmond by 30.

Although the Tar Heels appear to be firing on all cylinders, NU is concerned about the North Carolina’s midfield more than anything.

Coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said a disciplined defense along with “little stuff” such as keeping their feet moving on defense and going after ground balls are the Cats defensive keys to keeping up with the Tar Heel midfield.

Still, senior midfielder Taylor Thornton said NU will not change their defensive plan to suit North Carolina, but rather tighten their usual defense. 

“It’s our same defense … but we have to be on point,” Thornton said. “We can’t have any lapses where we fall asleep. There’s no time for that when we’re playing (North Carolina) – in any game, really, but especially this one.”

Both Thornton and junior midfielder Alyssa Leonard, who takes draws for NU, also mentioned North Carolina’s speed in the midfield as well as their quality dodgers.

“They have a lot of middies that are quick and all over the field, it’s just important to keep on them and not forget about certain people. They’re a scrappy team,” Leonard said. “They go hard whenever they have the ball and we have to keep that in the back of our head.”

The Tar Heels have 50 ground balls for three games, led by midfielder Margaret Corzel with 9. NU nabbed 39 ground balls in its two games, led by a new starter for the Cats, freshman midfielder Lauren Murray, who has 4.

To combat North Carolina’s fighting spirit, Leonard said NU will up its offensive pressure from the start.

“We’re going to put the pressure on them and see how they handle it, get out and make them feel uncomfortable and make sure we’re on the same page,” Leonard said.

Sunday’s ALC conference opener against Vanderbilt will perhaps pose less of a defensive challenge for the Cats.

The Commodores dropped three games already this season and almost half of their 44 total goals come from attacker Carly Linthicum, who scored 17 in her team’s four games.

North Carolina and Vanderbilt are the Cats’ last two games before their season debut at Lakeside Field on March 6.

Amonte Hiller mentioned one positive of the early season schedule’s timing: testing the team with Team USA and Team England then again in Los Angeles gave NU time for fine tuning before the Cats take on a highly ranked North Carolina and ALC foe Vanderbilt.

“We’ve had a little bit of a break, so we’ve really been able to work on some things and put some new things in,” Amonte Hiller said. “We’re excited to head down to UNC and then Vanderbilt and really test our team again.”