The Wildcats sent the message loud and clear to the Cardinals on Friday night: not again.
Northwestern (11-9, 3-2 Big Ten) cruised to a decisive 15-5 victory over Louisville (12-6) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in South Bend, Indiana. With the win, the Cats advance to the second round of the tournament and will play Notre Dame in South Bend on Sunday.
Louisville beat NU 10-4 early in the regular season, but with a balanced attack and a standout performance in goal, the Cats flipped the script Friday.
“I think (our team) was focused,” coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. “We played great defensively as team, Mallory (Weisse) had some great saves and we were able to take advantage of our opportunities on offense.”
The Cats got on the board just 36 seconds into the matchup thanks to a quick shot by senior midfielder Nancy Dunbar, setting the tone for the rest of the game.
After NU extended its lead to 3-0, the Cardinals were able to cut the deficit to a single goal with about 7 minutes into the match. But back-to-back assists from sophomore midfielder Selena Lasota to junior attacker Danita Stroup and senior midfielder Kaleigh Craig began a 6-0 run for the Cats that lasted the remainder of the half.
Though the Cardinals started the second half on a small 2-0 run, the Cats found their footing again just over 12 minutes into the period after another goal by Dunbar. Dunbar’s score started a 6-1 run for the Cats that would take them to the final buzzer.
NU’s offense was particularly balanced Friday. The Cats saw seven different players score. Craig, Stroup and freshman attacker Leighton Yenor all recorded hat tricks while Lasota tallied a career-high-tying three assists and also netted 2 goals.
“I think that we’ve just really been emphasizing that and making sure that everyone’s a threat,” Amonte Hiller said. “We’re shooting the ball well and we have a lot of weapons.”
Play was chippy throughout the game and NU earned two yellow cards early in the match while Louisville received six, five of which came in the second half. The Cats scored on two of their woman-up opportunities.
The biggest call of the game came at the 13:59 mark in the second half, when Louisville’s Kaylin Morissette received her second yellow card, resulting in her ejection. Morissette is third on the team in goals and is ranked second in the nation in draw controls.
Yenor said Morissette’s ejection served to fuel NU’s building momentum.
“It was huge,” Yenor said. “We knew that she was their playmaker and she was a huge asset to their team. Her being out just helped us to solidify that we’re in it, we got it, we just have to stay calm.”
Before her ejection, Morissette helped her team dominate on the draw, and Louisville ended the game with a strong 14-8 edge over the Cats in draw controls. Despite the lopsided possession off the circle, NU was able to force key turnovers and regain crucial possessions.
“Our defense had done a really great job preparing,” Yenor said. “They watched a ton of film and knew who their key players were. Mallory played a phenomenal game and had a ton of saves, and that really helped us to transition to attack and connect.”
NU’s defense limited the Cardinals to 23 shots and Weisse nabbed a career-high 12 saves, including several on point-blank, uncontested shots.
Coming off the victory, Craig said the Cats are already looking toward Notre Dame on Sunday.