Pillote: The Wildcats’ lacrosse dynasty is far from over


Bobby Pillote, Sports Editor

Sunday’s lacrosse game was hard to watch.

Northwestern tantalized fans in the NCAA Quarterfinal matchup, trailing just 2 goals behind vaunted archrival Maryland at halftime. But then, the Wildcats completely collapsed. NU yielded 9 straight goals to the Terrapins to start the second half, and only netted 1 score of its own over the final 30 minutes of play.

The Cats meekly rolled over and allowed their postseason nemesis to keep them out of the NCAA Semifinals for the first time in 11 years.

That streak of 10 consecutive visits to the Final Four — which includes seven national championships — defines NU’s dynasty under coach Kelly Amonte Hilller. Sunday’s loss disappointed, but it does not mean the dynasty is over. The Cats will reload, not rebuild, and there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic for next season.

To be fair to this year’s squad, Maryland is far and away the best team in the nation. The top seed in the NCAA Tournament sauntered through the regular season undefeated, including a 16-5 romp over NU on March 26 at Lakeside Field.

And the Cats will be losing significant contributions from a trio of seniors: attacker Kara Mupo, defensive midfielder Jess Carroll and goalkeeper Bridget Bianco. Mupo was the team’s third-leading scorer with 38 goals, and Carroll and Bianco appeared in every contest to anchor NU’s defense.

But the rest of the Cats’ talent is concentrated in the undergraduate ranks, starting with Selena Lasota.

The scoring total for the freshman — yes, freshman — ranks fifth nationally, and she led NU with 69 goals this season, 23 more than runner-up junior Kaleigh Craig. Despite facing constant face guards and double teams, Lasota managed to score in each of the Cats’ 21 games and collected a nomination for the Tewaaraton Award, given to the country’s best player, for her efforts.

Lasota is helped on offense by fellow freshman Corinne Wessels and sophomore Sheila Nesselbush. Wessels racked up a team-high 20 assists while chipping in 11 goals, and Nesselbush started every game and placed fourth on NU with 27 scores.

The emergence of draw control specialist freshman Shelby Fredericks will also be an important development heading into next year. The Cats struggled with draws early in the season, but gained traction once Fredericks stepped into the circle.

She ended up controlling a team-high 73 draws, which bodes well for the future. A critical feature of NU’s success in years past has been dominating in the circle and preventing opponents from possessing the ball.

And as a safety net, the Cats return with plenty of depth on defense. Lindsay Darrell and Shannon Nesselbush, both freshmen, started a combined 37 games this season and should continue to develop into their sophomore years.

The only question mark for Amonte Hiller is in net, where sophomore Natalee Easthom — the only goalkeeper who will be on the roster next year — is the heir apparent. Easthom played in just one game during her first two years at NU.

2015 was a down year for the Cats, but they still made it to the NCAA Quarterfinals. This season’s freshmen will be back and hungry for more.

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Twitter: @BobbyPillote