Defense keeps No. 5 Wildcats alive for 9th-straight win against Virginia


Daily File photo by Melody Song

Northwestern reaches for the ball off a draw control. The No. 5 Wildcats captured a close 6-5 victory over No. 7 Virginia on Saturday in Georgia.

Ava Wallace, Reporter


Northwestern left bitterly cold Evanston temperatures behind and headed to Georgia to face No. 7 Virginia on Saturday in the Cobb County Classic.

The No. 7 Cavaliers (0-1) had lost their last eight games against the No. 5 Wildcats (2-0) and were eager to balance the scales a little. Virginia’s Daniela Eppler and All-American Courtney Swan put the Cavaliers up 2-0 in just over two minutes before NU’s defense righted itself and held strong en route to a 6-5 Cats’ victory.

The two sides of the field in Georgia saw two different NU teams in the first half. The Cats’ defense, anchored by senior midfielder Haydyn Anigian, was as clinical and quick-footed as their offense was sloppy.

Anigian’s defense, kept intact with the help of midfielders sophomore Sheila Nesselbush and junior Nancy Dunbar, forced the Cavaliers to hunt for open chances for minutes at a time and kept last season’s top scorer Liza Blue off the board.

Goalkeeper Bridget Bianco stepped in to notch nine saves. The senior faced 20 shots from Virginia and was pleased with how well the defense stayed on track.

“Nobody freaked out when we got down by two,” Bianco said. “We talked about it together: Calm yet aggressive, and we really did our jobs.”

The Cats’ offense saw comparatively little action and seemed rushed when they did have ball control.

NU’s youth on attack has been evident in both of the Cats’ games so far this season. When NU edged Southern California by one goal in Los Angeles for its season opener, it was freshman midfielder and field-lacrosse newbie Selena Lasota who scored the game-winner in overtime.

This time around, senior Kara Mupo found herself in front of Virginia’s crease multiple times, but dumped-off feeds and imprecise shots kept her off the score sheet for the first time in a five-game streak that stretches back to last season.

Nesselbush and Lasota netted NU’s first two goals unassisted to kick off a 5-0 run for the Cats that lasted into the second half. Junior midfielder Kaleigh Craig scored her first goal since her season-ending injury last April to put NU up 3-2 going into the break.

Nesselbush, Lasota and Craig had a goal apiece in each half, with Nesselbush netting the game-winner in a man-up situation with three minutes left on the clock.

NU graduated the bulk of its attacking core last season — Mupo was the only senior attacker to start the game — and both coach Kelly Amonte Hiller and Bianco attribute these close games at the beginning of the season to a bit of a learning curve.

“We’re young, but we’re tough,” Bianco said. “It’s going to be challenging, no team is going to roll over, we’re not just going to win games. But we’re there, and we’re ready.”

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