Lacrosse: Despite ups and downs, Northwestern’s balanced attack proves quietly dangerous

Ava Wallace, Web Editor

Northwestern’s stat sheet is looking more balanced of late than it has in years.

Gone are the days when the No. 7 Wildcats’ (6-3, 1-1 ALC) attacking plan involved, or perhaps relied on, funneling the ball to one all-important scorer.

“In years past maybe we’ve been a little more focused on not having seven people out there who are legit threats all the time,” junior attack Kara Mupo said. “But since the fall, it’s been a culture on our team that if you’re on this field, anybody can score.”

NU’s offense is packed with polished attackers, though none of them has made much national noise in front of the cage. Not a single NU player ranks in the top 50 nationally in goals per game, and the Cats have the 26th-ranked scoring offense in the country, below four of the six teams NU has beaten this season. 

As a result, the Cats hold a deceptively dangerous attack.

The team’s leading scorer, sophomore Kaleigh Craig, has 19 goals so far this season. Last year when the Cats were nine-games deep, then-senior Erin Fitzgerald had already racked up 29 goals.

Fitzgerald would go on to win a slew of awards and is ranked eighth among all-time NU goal scorers with 190 career tallies. She was a unique talent, but more than halfway through this season, it’s apparent that an unusually well-rounded offense emerged in her wake, rather than a gaping hole.

Mupo and Craig are two of the six-player squad that makes up this year’s offense. Seniors Alyssa Leonard, Kate Macdonald, Kelly Rich and Kat DeRonda join them.

The attack executed an effective offensive scheme that kept No. 1 North Carolina to its lowest goal total in 32 games Monday. Though the Cats’ defense and junior goalkeeper Bridget Bianco — named the ALC’s defensive Player of the Week this week — played a major part in the 7-5 defeat, it was long offensive possessions that kept the ball out of the Tar Heels’ sticks.

Mupo, who notched 8 goals during the three-game stretch that took place during the end of Winter Quarter and Spring Break, said the more team-oriented offense is in part due to the squad-wide attitude adjustment at the beginning of this school year.

“When you have your down moments it’s about sticking together as a team, doing what we do, buying in, that’s really it,” the junior said. “It all pans out, you’ve just got to stay positive.”

That’s not to say everything has gone smoothly for NU this season; losing three games in less than three weeks revealed something of a tendency to lose focus.  

Matches during Spring Break produced mixed results.

Leonard, breaking the national record for career draw controls, with 359, in a 20-6 win against Michigan on March 11, was a highlight of the period. 

But the Cats lost 11-7 at then-No. 3 Syracuse on March 23 in the Orange’s first win against NU since 2003 before cracking then-No. 10 Massachusetts 10-6 just two days later.  

Monday’s game against the Tar Heels, the Cats’ Lakeside Field season debut, proved to be the payoff of time spent without distraction from lacrosse over Spring Break.

This weekend, as NU heads for the East Coast to face conference rival No. 10 Penn State on Friday and then No. 12 Pennsylvania on Sunday, the team will need to summon the sharp decision-making it demonstrated against North Carolina.

Coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said her team’s experience — the Cats have faced one of the more challenging schedules in the nation — and the offense’s ability to thrive as a unit will help NU with the quick turnaround.

“The girls will have time to soak things in, and I think we’ve gotten to the point in the season where we have a lot of systems,” Amonte Hiller said. “And then it’s just a matter of tweaks of what we want to do offensively and defensively.”

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