Lacrosse: Northwestern secures NCAA Tournament eligibility with win over Michigan


Keshia Johnson/The Daily Northwestern

Selena Lasota runs from a defender. The sophomore midfielder scored 3 goals Thursday afternoon, tied for the team lead.

Claire Hansen, Reporter


One down, two to go.

No. 15 Northwestern (9-8, 3-2 Big Ten) cruised to an easy 20-5 victory against Michigan (6-12, 0-5) in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday.

With the win, the No. 3 seeded Wildcats — who are hosting the tournament — advanced to the semifinals where they will play No. 2 seed Penn State on Friday night.

NU’s rout of No. 6 seeded Michigan also guaranteed that the Cats will go .500 or better on the season, securing them NCAA Tournament eligibility.

“It was a good team effort,” coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. “Everyone that went in was focused and really stuck to our game plan.”

After a spirited, albeit sloppy, first minute of play, junior attacker Christina Esposito fired from the edge of the crease, putting the Cats on the board just 1 minute 29 seconds into the contest. Just over a minute later, sophomore midfielder Selena Lasota — usually known for her own scoring abilities — threaded a tricky pass to freshman attacker Leighton Yenor, who scored from right in front of the cage.

Despite the strong start, the Cats fell into an early game lull, going scoreless for the next 10 minutes and letting in a Michigan goal.

With little more than half the period left, senior midfielder Kaleigh Craig cut across the 8-meter fan, splitting a pair of defenders and firing a shot from a low angle to end the Cats’ scoring drought.

From there, it was all NU. The Cats went on a 5-0 run over the next 3 and a half minutes, seeing goals from four different players, including 2 from Lasota.

Lasota, who was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week, was able to shake intense defensive pressure in order to tally three assists and 3 goals on the game.

“Initially, right when I got the ball, I was seeing that they were playing a backer on me,” Lasota said. “Kelly’s been giving us a bunch of tools about what to do when there’s a backer on me or Kaleigh (Craig). I tried to draw as much attention as I could and keep my head up at the same time.”

The Cats dominated every statistic except for saves, recording almost double the number of shots, draw controls and free position shots that Michigan tallied.

Defensively, NU was all over the middle of the field, forcing Michigan to turn the ball over 15 times, applying suffocating pressure on the ride. In the fight on the ground, NU scooped up 19 ground balls to Michigan’s 14. Esposito chalked up this fierce defense play to pure effort.

“It’s just all heart and hustle,” Esposito said. “We’ve really been focusing in on our ride and as an attack unit we take pride in not even letting our defense have to play defense. So as much as we can slow them down, our defense can get settled and get in there.”

Armed with a huge lead in the second half, the Cats were able to cycle in fresh players who usually don’t see playing time. Amonte Hiller said in a tournament scenario, utilizing fresh leg is crucial.

“Playing three games in four days, if we were to ever get the opportunity to, is definitely a challenge physically,” Amonte Hiller said. “We’re just focused in on Friday night, we have a tough test in front of us. We kind of just have to put every piece of our energy into that.”

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Twitter: @clairechansen