Lacrosse: Northwestern falls to North Carolina, tops Vanderbilt in ALC opener

Senior Taylor Thornton picks up a ground ball in a game last year. Thornton picked up four ground balls in the Cats' 15-8 win over Vanderbilt on Sunday.

Daily file photo by Mackenzie McCluer

Senior Taylor Thornton picks up a ground ball in a game last year. Thornton picked up four ground balls in the Cats’ 15-8 win over Vanderbilt on Sunday.

Ava Wallace, Assistant Sports Editor

Northwestern’s second away weekend this month was a tale of two cities.

The Wildcats split their weekend games during the team’s road trip to No. 5 North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C., and Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tenn.

The Wildcats (3-1) could not get a handle on the Tar Heels (3-1) during a rainy, Friday evening game.

The story of the game’s first half was all about North Carolina – the Tar Heels put together a 7-1 lead for the Cats to overcome in the second half.

Despite junior midfielder and draw specialist Alyssa Leonard dominating on the circle, NU had 9 turnovers in the first half and a yellow card, which gave North Carolina a man-up situation and a goal, and got only 6 ground balls compared to the Tar Heels’ 11.

Coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said her team dug themselves into too deep of a hole with their first-half blunders, especially against a team as highly ranked as the Tar Heels.

“I thought we fought back but it was a little too late,” Amonte Hiller said. “We made some really poor plays in the first half, bad decisions, not coming up with the ball, and that’s going to eat away at you when you play good teams.”

Senior midfielder Taylor Thornton did not want to blame some of the Cats’ slip-ups on weather – she mentioned the rain causing more turnovers than usual for both teams – and she praised her teammates for showing heart in their comeback.

In the second half, NU out-shot North Carolina 12-8 and the teams had 4 goals a piece. Still, Amonte Hiller said her team was lacking the passion they usually started executing their plays too late in the game.

“I just think that we didn’t really go after it,” Amonte Hiller said. “We didn’t have that pop that we normally have.”

The Cats were able to turn things around in their conference opener against Vanderbilt in Nashville two days later, however.

NU (3-1, 1-0 ALC) beat Vanderbilt (1-4, 0-1 ALC), 15-8. This time it was the Cats who had an unanswered hot streak – NU had a 7-0 run toward the beginning of the second half.

Thornton and Leonard overpowered the Commodores’ defense. Thornton won five draw controls and nabbed four ground balls, while Leonard scored a career-high four goals.

Defensively, Thornton also had a career-high five caused turnovers and sophomore goalie Bridget Bianco had a new career high of 9 saves.

After Sunday’s win, Amonte Hiller has a chance to go for her 200th career win at home on March 6 in the Wildcats’ home opener against Boston College.