Lacrosse: Wildcats look to overcome Gators to reach Final Four


Susan Du/Daily Senior Staffer

Alyssa Leonard scans the field to make a pass. The senior draw control specialist has 4 goals against Florida this season.

Bobby Pillote, Assistant Sports Editor

For Northwestern, hopefully the third time is the charm.

The No. 5 Wildcats (13-6) have battled the No. 4 Florida Gators (18-2) twice this season, losing each game by a single goal. In the regular season and in the ALC Tournament, NU had the advantage of playing on its own field, but for Saturday’s NCAA quarterfinal, the Cats will travel to Gainesville, Florida. At stake is a ticket to next weekend’s Final Four in Towson, Maryland.

In spite of the two losses, coach Kelly Amonte Hiller isn’t changing her preparation for the game.

“I don’t think the approach is any different,” she said. “You just have a lot more of a familiarity with the team, so it’s important for us to continue to work on our strengths and what we need to do to be successful.”

That may be for the best, because it’s difficult to pinpoint what exactly went wrong for NU between the first two games.

In the regular season matchup, the Cats did a great job of shutting down Florida midfielder Shannon Gilroy, holding her to just two goals. Gilroy otherwise steamrolled her competition this year, leading the nation in scoring with a staggering 83 goals, an average of 4.4 per game against teams not named NU.

In the first game, with all the attention focused on Gilroy, other players in Florida’s dynamic offense were free to score and keep the game out of reach for NU. The Cats made a valiant comeback at the end of regulation, but it was too little, too late.

In the ALC title game, NU seemed to have cured every ill, taking a comfortable 7-2 lead at halftime. Up to that point, Gilroy was scoreless and Florida’s second-leading scorer attack Sammi Burgess had just one goal. But it all fell apart in the second half, as the Cats yielded to an impressive Florida comeback and ceded the conference crown to the Gators.

Senior draw control specialist Alyssa Leonard drew criticism for some poor draws, but a collapse of that magnitude had much more to do with a sputtering offense and reeling defense than it did with any one player.

What remains to be seen in the third contest is if following the same approach can finally deliver NU to victory. The players, at least, certainly believe so.

“We know more of their tendencies,” said senior midfielder Kate Macdonald on playing Florida a third time. “We’ve played them twice in such a short amount of time, so it’s fresh in our memories. … We’re able to focus more on ourselves than focusing on them.”

Macdonald added the players aren’t looking ahead to a potential Final Four trip.

“Totally blocked out,” she said. “We’re definitely just focused on Saturday. There’s nothing beyond Saturday for us right now.”

The Cats are a veteran squad and have been deep in the postseason before, winning the national championship two years ago and falling in the Final Four in 2013. That experience will have to be enough to overcome the Gators’ apparent preponderance of talent.

“When you’re in the NCAA Tournament, it’s the best time of the year,” Amonte Hiller said. “This is where you want to be. … Everything that you did is to get you to this point, and this is the moment that you wait for.”

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