Lacrosse: Second-half surge paces Wildcats past Buffaloes in Lakeside opener

Ava Wallace, Reporter

While hundreds of students danced the weekend away in a tent behind the Norris University Center for Dance Marathon, Northwestern headed to Lakeside Field for its first outdoor game of the season.

The No. 7 Wildcats (4-2) came alive in the second half after a competitive, back-and-forth first period and rolled to a 14-8 win in their first-ever regular season matchup against Colorado (2-2).

The Saturday was also a homecoming for the Buffaloes’ three coaches Ann Elliott, Colleen Magarity and former Tewaaraton Award winner Hannah Nielsen, all of whom played under coach Kelly Amonte Hiller at NU.

The Cats plodded their way through the first half without leading and committed eight turnovers, but avoided a repeat of the one-goal loss to No. 2 North Carolina on Feb. 28 and regrouped to dominate possession in the second half.

A week later, junior midfielder Kaleigh Craig said the memory of that loss was a driving force after halftime.

“There was definitely a regrouping needed for halftime, we just needed to refocus,” Craig said. “We came off a loss last week and we were really frustrated with that, so we knew we needed to come out with better energy.”

Usual offensive leaders midfielder Selena Lasota and attack Corinne Wessels were face-guarded and marked behind the cage, respectively, which forced NU to adjust on offense in the first half. The two freshmen were still able to pace the Cats offense with a team-leading five goals from Lasota and five assists from Wessels.

Craig stepped up in place of senior Kara Mupo, out with an injury for her second straight game, and dictated ball movement much of the time, but wasn’t able to get on the board.

The Cats ended the first half with an all-freshmen score sheet —  two goals from Lasota and one apiece from Wessels and Shelby Fredericks — and 4 goals off 14 shots.

Lasota notched her two goals in one-on-one situations against Buffaloes’ goalie Paige Soenksen, who ended the day with an impressive 13 saves. Lasota’s five goals on the game brought her season total to 24.

“It’s just a matter of getting used to that type of thing, getting the other players used to that,” Amonte Hiller said of the second half improvement on offense. “Even though we prepared all week, I think it took us a half to get in the mode of ‘this is what we need to do.’”

In the second half, the Cats won the draw 13-2 and shots increased from 14 to 24. Craig scored twice  in the midst of a 6-0 streak in the second half, and Wessels had four consecutive assists toward the end of the game.

NU’s defense also held Colorado to just seven shots in the second period, giving senior goalkeeper Bridget Bianco a well-deserved break after she faced 17 shots in the first half.

Colorado’s leading goal scorer Johnna Fusco, who ended the day with a hat trick, gave Bianco the most trouble. The senior otherwise had a stellar day between the pipes and came just shy of the season-high 13 saves she made at North Carolina last weekend.

NU now has two weeks off before facing No. 6 Syracuse on March 22 and No. 1 Maryland on March 26.

Amonte Hiller said she’s treating the break as a second preseason.

“We’re going to work on everything, everything we can to get better,” Amonte Hiller said. “All aspects of our game, offense, defense, transition — everything, we need to work on.”

Twitter: @AvaRWallace