Women’s Lacrosse: Wildcats bring hot streak home for final leg of the regular season


Daily file photo by Susan Du

Senior midfielder Kat DeRonda has come off the bench to notch five goals over Northwestern’s last two games. Those scores added to her career-high season total of 18 entering the Wildcats’ game against Vanderbilt on Thursday.

Bobby Pillote, Assistant Sports Editor

Northwestern will take Lakeside Field on Thursday for the final stretch of its regular season schedule.

The Wildcats (8-3, 2-1 ALC) are set to face the Vanderbilt Commodores (4-8, 1-2) in a battle of conference foes. NU has prevailed in the teams’ previous 12 face offs.

“Vanderbilt’s very well-coached and they’re competitors and they’re going to come in wanting to knock us off, just like every team does,” NU coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. “They’re very explosive offensively. They always have been. They move the ball extremely well, they always have a lot of weapons and a lot of different people that step up for them. It’ll be a really good test for us.”

That said, the Commodores aren’t likely to turn their fortunes around against a red-hot Cats squad.

NU has just emerged from the toughest chunk of its slate, competing against five opponents ranked in the national top 12. Four of those games were on the road, with the lone home match being against No. 1 North Carolina.

Despite the long odds, the Cats emerged with a 4-1 mark, losing the first game to No. 3 Syracuse on March 23 before taking four straight over No. 10 Massachusetts, North Carolina, No. 10 Penn State and No. 12 Penn.

Sophomore midfielder Kaleigh Craig said the team is coming into its own mentally.

“This whole year we’ve been such a close group friendship-wise, but it took us a good amount of games to really get our mental focus closer to where we wanted it,” Craig said. “We’re doing a much better job now, and our practice and games the last couple of weeks have been much closer to where we’ve been aiming for. The locker room setting is always a lot of energy and a lot of fun and is really ready but having fun at the same time.”

The Commodores, meanwhile, have struggled. Vanderbilt has lost to all four teams NU recently beat, and thanks to a porous defense that is allowing nearly 13 goals per game, has limped to a 4-8 record this season.

The brightest spot on the team is senior Abby Wheeler, who leads an efficient offense with 27 goals scored. Playing Robin to Wheeler’s Batman is attacker Mallory Schonk, who has racked up an impressive 20 assists.

Thus, continuing to play strong defense will be key for the Cats, who are just 2-3 this year when conceding seven or more goals. But the emerging offensive threat of senior midfielder Kat DeRonda will also be vital as NU prepares for the postseason.

DeRonda was lethal off the bench the last two games, tallying five of her career-high 18 goals this season. She fills out the offense behind top scorers Craig and senior attacker Alyssa Leonard and gives the Cats an option that can keep opposing defenses off balance.

Beyond keeping the offense and defense in rhythm, NU will look to build confidence heading into the postseason. The Cats won the ALC last year and will have the opportunity to defend their title on home turf, as Lakeside Field has been selected to host this year’s conference tournament.

NU also has a big showdown looming in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field for its final regular season game on April 26. Against out-of-conference Southern California, the matchup has no postseason implications. But, the spectacle of turf and goalposts against an ivy backdrop is sure to elevate this Cats team to unprecedented exposure.

For NU, proving itself on the biggest stage of the season will likely be a harbinger of good things to come.

“The girls have a lot of confidence,” Amonte Hiller said. “It’s going to be a big difference for us to be home and not have to travel. They’re ready, these are two very important games, Vanderbilt and Hopkins, and the girls are very excited to be home. And it looks like tomorrow that it’s going to be a nice day.”

Ava Wallace contributed reporting.

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