Lacrosse: Zone defense befuddles Wildcats in loss to Penn


Dan Waldman/Daily Senior Staffer

Shelby Fredericks is swarmed by defenders. The junior attacker and the Wildcats struggled against Penn’s zone defense in Sunday’s loss.

Dan Waldman, Assistant Sports Editor


Northwestern and Penn have a history of close contests, settling their last two games in overtime. And with the teams splitting their last two games against each other, Sunday’s match provided an opportunity for one team to claim the series lead.

The No. 16 Wildcats (6-6, 2-0 Big Ten) hosted the No. 11 Quakers (8-2) on Sunday as Penn’s defense stifled NU’s offense, holding the Cats to single digit goals for just the third time this season. The 10-7 defeat ended NU’s winning streak at three and dropped the team back to .500 on the year.

The Cats got off to a slow start, conceding a pair of early goals and failing to score for the first 14 minutes of the game. The hosts couldn’t get the better of Quakers goaltender Britt Brown, who recorded nine saves in the first half. Brown entered the game third in the country in goals-against average, allowing just 7.44 goals per game.

Senior attacker Christina Esposito said Brown’s goaltending disrupted the offense, but NU’s shooters needed to do a better job of finishing.

“Credit to her — she’s a great goalie — but we just needed to throw a fake in our shots,” Esposito said. “She didn’t really move much and a lot of our shots were high to high. We just needed to put them around her and finish.”

Sunday’s game proved to be a game of runs, as the Cats scored 3 unanswered goals to take a 3-2 lead with 11:20 left in the first half. After Penn tied the match, senior midfielder Catie Ingrilli tallied a late goal with 16 seconds remaining in the half to put the home team back in front.

Coach Kelly Amonte Hiller made second half adjustments to the NU offense, most notably moving Esposito, the team’s leading scorer, from behind the net to up top. The Quakers held Esposito scoreless in the first half, but couldn’t contain the veteran following halftime as she netted 3 consecutive goals to put her past the 30-goal mark for the season.

However, the Cats’ lead didn’t hold. Coming off a Thursday overtime game against Johns Hopkins, NU began to show signs of fatigue down the stretch.

Amonte Hiller said playing back to back games was a factor in blowing the late lead, but discipline throughout all 60 minutes also contributed.

“We made some undisciplined plays and they could be attributed to fatigue for sure,” Amonte Hiller said. “We have to figure out how to really lock that down towards the end of games and not have these undisciplined plays — yellow cards, going over the head, those types of things.”

Penn closed the game with 5 unanswered goals, as the Quakers held the Cats scoreless for the last 13 minutes of the game. Despite scouting their opponent’s defensive slides, NU couldn’t get past the fourth-best scoring defense in the country and Penn’s dominant zone defense.

Ingrilli said the team tried to move the ball quickly to counter the zone, but in the end, the Cats just didn’t execute.

“A zone is hard to beat,” she said. “You really need to move the ball and work as a team. So using a lot of time to wear down the defense is something we really want to focus on moving forward against zones.”

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