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Lacrosse: No. 2 seed Northwestern kicks off ALC Tournament with No. 3 seed Penn State

Northwestern midfielder Alyssa Leonard is looking to capture the school record for draw controls in a season. The junior’s 283 career draw controls are the most in program history, but she is 8 shy of the single season record of 110 set by Danielle Spencer in 2010.

Daily file photo by Melody Song

Northwestern midfielder Alyssa Leonard is looking to capture the school record for draw controls in a season. The junior’s 283 career draw controls are the most in program history, but she is 8 shy of the single season record of 110 set by Danielle Spencer in 2010.

Ava Wallace, Assistant Sports Editor

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In a campaign that included more than one loss in the regular season for the second time since 2004, Northwestern appears to have caught a break heading into the ALC Tournament.

The tournament began Thursday evening in Baltimore. Having captured a share of the ALC regular-season title, the second-seeded NU gained a bye Friday heading into the tournament semi-finals, where it will meet third-seeded Penn State.

Penn State, which trumped Vanderbilt 16-14 in its quarter-finals game Thursday night, also claimed a share of the ALC regular-season title along with Florida.

The three-way tie is due to what could be described as an ALC roundabout – the Nittany Lions were the only team to defeat the No. 1-seed Gators this season, the Gators beat the Cats and NU handily defeated Penn State onApril 5.

Lucky for NU, however, the team’s 11-3 victory against Penn State was one of the Cats’ most dominant performances this season.

Defensively, NU held Maggie McCormick, who leads Penn State with 42 goals, to just 1 assist and 2 shots back in April, and held Mackenzie Cyr, who comes in second for the Nittany Lions with 27 goals, to just 1 assist and 2 ground balls.

The Cats were also able to depend on offensive staples senior Erin Fitzgerald and junior draw-control specialist Alyssa Leonard on their road to victory.

Leonard, who was named second-team All-ALC on Wednesday, won 5 draw controls against the Nittany Lions, who lost 10-6 to the Cats in the circle. 

The junior ranks fifth nationally in draw controls, having won 102 this season alone, and is 8 away from becoming the player with the most draw controls in a single season for NU. She is already the school’s career leader in draw controls with 283.

A little farther up the field, Fitzgerald tallied 4 goals against Penn State on April 5 and, like many of the starters on coach Kelly Amonte Hiller’s roster, has accolades to rival those of Leonard.

The senior, along with fellow seniors and midfielders Taylor Thornton and Gabriella Flibotte, was named first-team All-ALC on Wednesday.

Fitzgerald leads the team with 55 goals this season and ranks seventh nationally in goals scored per game.

But, most importantly, Amonte Hiller said Fitzgerald is consistent and brings peace of mind to her team’s offense every game.

“She just steps up every time she steps out on the field,” Amonte Hiller said on a conference call Monday. “It’s pretty exciting to have her have been so consistent this season and for us to be able to rely on her game in and game out. … When you know you’re going to get good production from her every game, it’s really something to rely on.”

Leonard, Fitzgerald and Thornton were three of the Cats’ six goal-scorers against the Nittany Lions in the teams’ regular season contest.

NU managed to possess the ball for most of that game, but it was the team’s defense, arguably the Cat’s most reliable component save the outlying loss to Florida, that ultimately did Penn State in.

This time around, Penn State coach Missy Doherty hopes to better adjust to NU’s aggressive backfield.

“They pressed us out really, really well, and we couldn’t really get our offense going,” Doherty said on the call. “I think for some of our freshmen and sophomores, because we’ve been playing a pretty young team, that’s a game that they just have to experience. … You have to go through it once, and thankfully we did that.”

The team’s defense shone particularly in the week-long stretch toward the end of April, during which NU played three top-20 teams.

The Cats’ backfield, led in part by Flibotte, who also ranks 13th nationally with 2.71 ground balls per game this season, held then-No. 11 Virginia to 6 goals, four fewer than the Cavaliers average per game, just one day after crushing Penn State.

NU went on to hold then-No. 9 Duke to 4 goals — the Blue Devils average about 12 goals per game — and then-No. 15 Stanford to 8 goals — the Cardinal average 14 goals per game.

But even with a defense it can count on and an offense that out-scored every other team in the conference except for Florida, NU is always looking to improve.

Amonte Hiller said the regular season is a thing of the past and she is focusing on improving her own team more than anything. 

“It’s the close of our regular season — draw a line in the sand,” Amonte Hiller said. “It’s anyone’s ball game, so we have to make sure we really go out there and give it everything we’ve got. Every day.”

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About the Writer
Ava Wallace, Web Editor

Ava Wallace was a Web editor for The Daily Spring Quarter 2014, and she is a Medill senior. Her past positions include Sports editor, assistant Sports...