The Daily Northwestern

Lacrosse: Northwestern enters treacherous elite eight, takes on Penn State in quarterfinals

Northwestern midfielder Ali Cassera was one of three Wildcats to score a hat trick in Saturday’s win over Stanford. The seniors are the only class currently on the NU roster which has lost a national championship game.

Daily file photo by Melody Song

Northwestern midfielder Ali Cassera was one of three Wildcats to score a hat trick in Saturday’s win over Stanford. The seniors are the only class currently on the NU roster which has lost a national championship game.

Ava Wallace, Assistant Sports Editor

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No. 2 Northwestern already booted second-round matchup Stanford from the NCAA Tournament with ease. On Saturday, the Wildcats (18-2) compete against No. 7 Penn State (14-6), a team they have already faced twice this season, in a quarterfinal matchup on Lakeside Field.

If the Cats continue to advance in the tournament, the squad could face either No. 3 North Carolina or Virginia in the semifinals. Beyond the semifinals, No. 5 Florida, No. 4 Syracuse, Duke and No. 1 Maryland loom as potential NCAA championship matchups for NU.

Daunting future notwithstanding, senior midfielder Ali Cassera is keeping her cool, even though the Cats are still in school as Spring Quarter drags on.

“When it comes down to it, we’re prepared,” Cassera said of the tough schedule. “I remember last year I took a final the day before the national championship. We’re used to it.”

Cassera was one of three NU players to net a hat trick against Stanford en route to the Cats’ win.

The senior said playing Penn State — a familiar matchup for the Cats after a regular season game and a meeting in the ALC Tournament — is all about personal improvement this time around.

“When you play a team three times you really start to know their tendencies,” Cassera said. “I think for the most part it’s going to be about ourselves and focusing on what we need to work on and what we need to be better at.”

NU and Penn State’s most recent meeting ended in an overtime loss for the Nittany Lions in ALC Tournament semifinals.

Coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said the close win means her team will have to bring fire on the field to rival a vengeful Penn State.

“It’s just about going out there and competing,” Amonte Hiller said. “They’re going to be fired up, they lost to us in overtime. … So we have to make sure that we come out and play our best.”

If the Cats do move on to the semifinal round, the tournament bracket will turn into a treacherous battleground.

NU won comfortably against Virginia and Duke, but both teams will play as underdogs in their respective quarterfinal matchups. The contest with Syracuse, who plays lower-seeded Florida in the quarterfinals, was trickier — the Cats closed out the win by 1 goal.

Even more nerve-racking is that NU lost to two of the teams left in the bracket — North Carolina and Florida — and has yet to face Maryland, the only undefeated team in the nation.

The 11-8 loss to North Carolina could be cast aside as an early-season hiccup. The Cats bounced back from their embarrassing 22-4 loss to the Gators by defeating them in the ALC championship game. Maryland is still the wild card.

If the two lacrosse dynasties do end up meeting in the final, however, Amonte Hiller said her team will not go into the matchup blind.

“We know them, we watch them. They know us, they watch us,” Amonte Hiller said. “Anyone who’s a top team, you’re watching. Even though we don’t play them, it’s already a rivalry.”

Maryland is also the only team other than NU to capture a national championship in the past eight years. The Terrapins defeated the Cats to take the title in 2010, which means Cassera and her six senior classmates are the only players on Amonte Hiller’s squad who know what a loss in the NCAA Tournament finals feels like.

Cassera said having that experience is not a bad thing.

“We have those feelings in the back of our mind. … It’s just trying to instill that in the underclassmen and making sure that they know that,” Cassera said. “We’ve seen both sides of it, and we’re not going to let that happen again.”

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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...