Lacrosse: Draw controls, defense key to Northwestern’s chances against Louisville


Daily file photo by Sean Su

Christina Esposito runs with the ball. The junior attacker has scored four goals through Northwestern’s first three games of the 2016 season.

Bobby Pillote, Web Editor


Northwestern isn’t fooling anybody with its 1-2 record.

A rocky start is all part of the program for the No. 10 Wildcats, who will continue a string of ranked battles when they take on the No. 11 Louisville Cardinals (5-0) on Thursday in Louisville, Kentucky. Louisville will actually be the lowest-ranked team NU has faced off against this season, with the team already tacking contests against then-No. 4 Duke, then-No. 10 Virginia and then-No. 2 Syracuse to its resume.

That the Cats prevailed over the Blue Devils by just 3 goals and lost to the Cavaliers and Orange by a combined 6 is indicative of how competitive NU’s early schedule has been. Thursday’s tilt figures to be no different, though the Cats may hold a slight psychological edge.

NU’s match against Syracuse turned into a chippy one, with coach Kelly Amonte Hiller asking game officials to examine the sticks of certain Orange players at halftime. Referees determined two players had been using illegal sticks, and the Cats started the second half with a two-player advantage. But the edge wasn’t enough to mount a comeback, and NU will be looking to redeem itself.

Draw controls were the sore spot against Syracuse, with the Orange taking 11-of-15 in the opening frame before Amonte Hiller asked for a stick check. Winning draws has been a problem for the Cats throughout the first three games of the season.

Success in the circle is a necessary ingredient for the Cats’ deliberate offensive pace, but NU has won just 30 draws to opponents’ 41 thus far. Amonte Hiller’s squad faces yet another challenge against Louisville, which has converted a staggering 78 percent of its draws this season.

Better ball control may also provide a much-needed boost to the Cats’ besieged defense. Going up against some of the toughest competition certainly hasn’t helped, but NU uncharacteristically ranks No. 61 in the country with an 11.3 goals against average. The Cats have attempted about as many shots as their opposition this season, but opposing teams are finding a way to make more out of their opportunities.

Whatever the solution, NU could use a pickup in the final leg of a brutal opening stretch. If the Cats want to meet the lofty expectations which have become the norm for the program, they need to beat — not just compete with — other top teams around the country.

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