Lacrosse: Cats face Cardinals in NCAA opener

Claire Hansen, Reporter


It’s finally tournament time, and this year Northwestern has a lot to prove.

The Wildcats grabbed the No. 8 NCAA Tournament seed after capping off an 11-5 regular season with a disappointing loss to Penn State in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament.

Tournament play starts Friday for No. 9 NU (12-6, 3-2 Big Ten) when they take on No. 18 Louisville (10-7) at Lakeside Field.

“Our group is starting to come together,” coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. “We have some good people in good spots, and even though our last outing wasn’t successful, I feel good about this group and about tomorrow. I’m excited for them to show what they can achieve.”

The team feels ready, too. They’ve shaken off their regular season disappointments and Big Ten woes, said junior midfielder Kaleigh Craig.

“We’ve just kind of washed all that away and had a good week of practice,” Craig said. “We’re ready.”

History is on the Cats’ side. NU is 20-0 in NCAA Tournament games at Lakeside Field under Amonte Hiller. Last year, the Cats faced Louisville in the second round of the tournament and handed the Cardinals an 11-8 loss.

Louisville and NU last met in Evanston on March 29, when the Cats earned a 12-10 victory. Despite the NU victory, the stats were pretty even. Although the Cats led in clears, ground balls and free position shots, the Cardinals led in shots and draw controls.

Louisville’s dominance on the circle in March was no fluke, either. The Cardinals are fifth in the nation in draw controls, while NU lags decidedly behind at 26th.

Amonte Hiller said although the draw will be a concern, the Cats have grown on the circle and improved tremendously throughout the season.

“We are starting to become strong in that area,” Amonte Hiller said. “If we can win possessions that’s huge, but we are definitely going to have to worry about that tomorrow.”

NU is also going to have to worry about a few Cardinals in particular. Tewaaraton Award nominee Kaylin Morissette has 178 draw controls, ranking second in the nation, and leads the Cardinals with 59 points. Teammate Hannah Koloski leads the team with 50 goals.

But, of course, the Cats have dynamite players of their own, including Tewaaraton Award nominee freshman Selena Lasota and senior Kara Mupo.

Mupo, who has arguably become the face of NU lacrosse over the years, said although the tournament holds special meaning for her, it’s just about getting the job done.

“There’s definitely a sense of urgency,” Mupo said. “It’s the same mentality, though, just going out there and setting the tone.”

And although both history and stats predict a Cats victory, Craig said no one on the team is letting her guard down.

“Especially when it comes to tournament time, anything can happen,” Craig said. “Everyone is on their game, so you never know. You need to prepare like it’s your last game.”

Everyone on the team knows there is something to prove here and a chance to reassert themselves as the best of the best on the lacrosse field. Amonte Hiller believes they can.

“If you don’t adjust you’re going to be in trouble,” Amonte Hiller said. “You have to have your own philosophies, but you have to be able to recognize who you have on your squad. A strength of ours has been trying to find who fits in where.”

Bobby Pillote contributed reporting.

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Twitter: @clairechansen