Lacrosse: Wildcats advance to Big Ten finals after claiming revenge against Penn State

Dan Waldman, Assistant Sports Editor


Northwestern was on a mission for revenge, and Friday night the Wildcats showed no mercy.

No. 3 seed NU (10-8, 3-2 Big Ten) will advance to the championship game of the Big Ten Tournament against No. 1 Maryland (18-0, 5-0) on Sunday, following the Cats’ 9-6 defeat of No. 2 seed Penn State (11-6, 3-2) on Friday. NU avenged its loss from last year to the Nittany Lions in the Big Ten semifinals, when Penn State bounced the Cats from the Big Ten Tournament in a 13-10 loss.

And NU’s offense, which was led by senior attacker Kaleigh Craig, had no intentions of letting history repeat itself.

“(There was) definitely revenge for last year and the last time we played them,” Craig said. “Obviously being home was a huge motivator. … We really want to take advantage of it — we want to win it.”

Craig recorded her 10th hat trick of the season in the team’s win over the Nittany Lions. But the senior also received scoring support from five other teammates in the spread-out offensive attacking scheme.

The Cats came out of the gates firing, scoring the first 3 goals of the game and establishing an early lead. Junior attacker Christina Esposito assisted junior attacker Danita Stroup twice to give NU the first 2 goals of the game. Both times, Stroup cut past the Penn State defense and made her way to the crease, where she slotted home a pair of shots past goalie Emi Smith.

The Cats went into halftime time boasting a 5-2 lead, and coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said the team’s desire to win was evident.

“The last time we played Penn State we weren’t happy with how we played,” Amonte Hiller said. “You don’t get many second chances in life so this was a great second chance and they really wanted to make the most of it.”

NU’s defense stepped up big in the second half behind freshman goalie Mallory Weisse. Weisse recorded 10 saves in the game, including numerous one-on-one opportunities right on the crease.

But Weisse credited her stellar performance to her suffocating defense, led by freshman Claire Quinn and sophomore Ally Mueller. Friday’s game was just Mueller’s second of the season after rehabbing an ACL injury for most of the year.

“Having Ally Mueller back is awesome,” Weisse said. “It’s really exciting because obviously an injury like an ACL is a big setback, but she really fought back and it’s pretty amazing and inspirational for our whole team. Claire Quinn really stepped up — she’s a freshman like me and we really have each other’s backs.”

Late in the game, however, the defense ran into trouble.

With just less than 6 minutes remaining and the Cats up 8-5, the team picked up two yellow cards and was forced to play two players down for 2 minutes. Mueller and sophomore midfielder Shannon Nesselbush picked up back-to-back penalties to put NU in a five-on-seven situation.

Amonte Hiller told her team to come up with a save and launch the ball down the field so sophomore midfielder Selena Lasota could run onto it, and the Cats did just that.

“That was huge, I was just hoping on the five-on-seven situation that we could come up with a save or get the possession so that we could kill it,” Amonte Hiller said. “We were very concerned about getting the ball out of our zone in the five-on-seven and then just getting it right back and shoving it down our throats.”

Following NU’s victory, the team will face the Terrapins on Sunday.

Amonte Hiller said the team is excited to redeem itself against the No. 1 team in the nation.

“We’re very excited about having the opportunity to play in the Big Ten championship game on our home field,” Amonte Hiller said. “Our team played with a lot of heart, I was really proud of them. The way they played together — especially defensively — they really stepped up and made plays when we needed it.”

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