Lacrosse: Wildcats’ rally falls short as rival Gators clinch regular season conference title


Brian Lee/Daily Senior Staffer

Junior attack Kara Mupo passes the ball off. Mupo had 4 goals during Northwestern’s loss to Florida and scored what would have been the game-tying shot.

Ava Wallace, Web Editor

The 1,679 fans who packed into Lakeside Field’s bleachers Saturday afternoon learned why Northwestern and Florida have the most electric rivalry in the sport.

The No. 5 Wildcats’ (9-5, 3-3 ALC) Senior Day ended in heartbreak after junior attack Kara Mupo’s would-be game-tying goal was disallowed after it was ruled that the junior stepped into the No. 4 Gators’ (15-2, 6-0) crease.

Florida took the victory 13-12 for its fourth straight regular-season win over NU. The last-second victory also clinched the ALC title for the Gators, who will be the No. 1 seed in the ALC tournament, which NU will host in the first week of May.

Mupo’s shot came after a strong comeback attempt from the Cats, who faced an 11-5 deficit with less than 18 minutes left in the game. The junior shined in the final minutes of Saturday’s game, in part making up for the absence of leading scorer Kaleigh Craig. The sophomore was seen in a boot, sidelined with a foot injury.

Mupo said the team’s effort proves its readiness to step up during Craig’s leave.

“We’ve said this throughout the whole season: We’re in this together,” Mupo said. “Losing Kaleigh, losing any player on your team, it’s personal, it’s not just me to step up. We need all 11 people on the field to step up. … We’ve just got to keep this in the pit of our stomach, keep it as a burning fire and play for people like Kaleigh who don’t have the opportunity out there.”

Sophomore Spring Sanders kicked off the comeback effort with her first career goal after forcing a turnover that led to a one-on-one with Florida’s goalie. After Sanders’ goal, Mupo tallied a hat trick, and senior attack Kat DeRonda, junior midfielder Jess Carroll and senior attack Christy Turner rounded out the rest of the Cats’ scores.

Carroll was one of the midfielders who was moved up to attack after Craig was sidelined. The junior proved her worth with two goals, the first to get NU out of a 5-1 hole in the first half and the second to cut the deficit to 12-9 in the second half.

Before NU’s late rally, the Gators made it clear early on they were in Evanston to ruin the Cats’ Senior Day.

Florida asserted itself and jumped out to a 5-1 lead 15 minutes into the first half, and NU was stuck playing catch-up against an aggressive, quick Gator defense.

NU continued with its possession-minded offensive strategy, at times trying to slow down the game on attack. But Florida controlled the game’s pace and played in lockdown mode, effectively pressuring all game.

The Gators’ defense forced nine turnovers and made the Cats work for their chances at the net: Florida let fly an impressive 31 shots compared to NU’s 20. That number was almost equal in the second half, but the visitors dominated the first period with 17 shots to the Cats’ seven.

Speaking even more to Florida’s effective defense were the draw controls. NU won 17 draw controls to the Gator’s 10 but couldn’t consistently put things away on offense.

The senior class’ performance was, fittingly, a highlight of the day. Seniors DeRonda, Alyssa Leonard and Kelly Richdid their parts on attack with two goals for Leonard, one for DeRonda and two critical assists from Rich.

On defense, senior Kerri Harrington quieted Florida’s Shannon Gilroy, who leads the nation in goals by 23. Mupo, who would have been the 10th member of the team’s senior class had she not redshirted last year, said both the seniors’ performance and the comeback showed NU’s grit.

“I think you have to take a positive out of it,” Mupo said. “We’re down 11-5, and we can come back and put us in a situation like that, it just shows how much fight we have. We should never put ourselves in that situation, but that’s a testament to how hard this team works.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @AvaRWallace