Lacrosse: Northwestern to say goodbye to Thornton, Fitzgerald, five other seniors against Penn on Saturday

Ava Wallace, Assistant Sports Editor

Against No. 16 Pennsylvania (9-4) on Saturday, No. 4 Northwestern (14-2) plays to stay undefeated at home this season, to conclude its regular season with a win and conquer its 11th top-20 opponent this year. 

At Lakeside Field on Saturday, the Wildcats will also say goodbye to seven seniors, a group that includes some of the most well-known names in college lacrosse.

Senior defender Gabriella Flibotte, senior midfielder Taylor Thornton and senior attacker Erin Fitzgerald proved to be three of the NU’s most noteworthy players this year. The trio often provided team-leading performances across the field.

Fitzgerald has had one of the most prolific seasons in the nation. The senior has scored in every single game this season, leads the team in goals with 51 and is ranked 10th nationally for goals per game.

Coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said the calculated risks Fitzgerald takes in games are what set her apart from other goal scorers. The next highest goal scorer for NU is junior midfielder Alyssa Leonard, who has less than half the number of goals Fitzgerald does this season.

“I think she plays hard, she’s fearless when she gets in the game setting,” Amonte Hiller said. “It really allows her to take advantage of the opportunities that she gets.”

Fitzgerald and the rest of the Cats’ offense on Saturday will face Penn’s sophomore goalkeeper Lucy Ferguson, who ranks 15th in the nation for save percentage, nine spots above sophomore keeper Bridget Bianco. 

Saturday’s contest will also be the last at Lakeside Field for NU’s midfield/defense hybrid position players Thornton and Flibotte. 

Flibotte, along with junior defender Kerri Harrington, helmed the defense all season and worked with Bianco to develop what is now the 11th-ranked scoring defense in the nation. 

Flibotte also leads the team in ground balls and caused turnovers with 44 and 35, respectively, and trails Leonard to rank second for most draw controls this season, with 37. 

Thornton comes in second for the Cats in both ground balls, with 35, and caused turnovers, with 18, but ranks third for the program’s all-time career lists in both categories. In her almost four full years of playing, Thornton has racked up 169 ground balls and 90 caused turnovers. 

Thornton, Flibotte and Harrington have helped mold a defense that more often than not lives up to Amonte Hiller’s high standards for a flexible and strong backfield.

Amonte Hiller said NU’s defense took some time to gel and come into its own this season, despite early-season wins in which Southern California and then-No. 14 Massachusetts were held to 5 and 4 goals, respectively. 

Nonetheless, defense has helped the Cats remain undefeated at Lakeside Field so far this season.  A win against Penn on Saturday would make 2012-13 the seventh undefeated-at-home season in Amonte Hiller’s 12 years with the program.