Lacrosse: Wildcats win Big Ten Tournament opener

Ava Wallace, Reporter


Though hosted by Big Ten newcomer Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey, the first game of the first-ever Big Ten Women’s Lacrosse Tournament featured two conference founders and ultimately a return to tradition — at least for the time being.

No. 3 seed Northwestern (12-5, 4-2) dispatched No. 6 seed Michigan (5-12, 0-6) 13-9 in the inaugural conference tournament game. Although inconsistent play has nagged the team all year, the Wildcats were ready to play their best once the postseason began, as per usual.

Turnovers plagued NU throughout the game, however, and the first 10 minutes were a grind. Sophomore midfielder Sheila Nesselbush — who, along with freshman midfielder Selena Lasota, was named to the All-Big Ten team — rattled off two goals in the first four minutes before Michigan responded with three in a row.

The Cats ended the half with nine turnovers, had another less than five minutes into the second half and racked up 17 by the end of the game. Coach Kelly Amonte Hiller attributed the turnovers to her team deviating from its game plan.

Luckily for NU, freshman attack Corinne Wessels and senior attack Kara Mupo righted the team and gave the Cats some momentum going into halftime. Junior Kaleigh Craig carried it through, coming out of the half with a goal on a free position shot.

After Craig’s goal, the Cats were up 7-4. They built on the three-goal lead, and Craig scored a hat trick in the first six minutes of the half. Michigan couldn’t catch up despite a pair of mid-half, unassisted goals from leading scorer Anna Scheuler.

Senior goalkeeper Bridget Bianco was also a large part of keeping the Cats just barely ahead of the Wolverines in the first half. She recorded four impressive saves (of a total five) before halftime.

Possession-wise, NU dominated on the draw circle thanks in large part to Nesselbush, who won five of the Cats’ 16 pulls, compared to Michigan’s 8. Nesselbush was one of seven players — including Lasota, Wessels and freshman midfielder Lindsay Darrell, who won four draw controls — to take to the circle.

In addition to Craig’s tallies, Mupo also had a hat trick coming off the bench. Craig and Mupo led the team’s eight goal scorers and Wessels characteristically led in the assist category with two. Nesselbush was the only other player to score more than once.

Hiller said that kind of ball movement will be critical when the Cats play the No. 2 seed Penn State — who received a bye to the second round — in the Big Ten semifinals Friday at 5:30 p.m. When Penn State handed NU a stinging 14-10 loss April 19, the Nittany Lions held the Cats to just 4 goals in the first half. They allowed the second-fewest goals in the Big Ten throughout the season — only No. 1 seed Maryland played tighter defense.

“We need to win possessions, play team defense and play smart offensively,” Amonte Hiller said of the Penn State rematch. “We have an advantage in getting our feet wet today and getting the kinks out, and tomorrow we’re going to be ready to play.”

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