Lacrosse: Wildcats living on edge going into Rutgers matchup this weekend
April 20, 2017
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For the second-straight year, the Wildcats are fighting for their postseason lives, and with only two games remaining in the regular season, Saturday’s match against Rutgers will serve as a must-win contest.
No. 15 Northwestern (8-7, 3-1 Big Ten) will hit the road this weekend as it takes on the Scarlet Knights (8-6, 2-2 Big Ten). Last year, the Cats had their way with their east-coast foes, piling on a 20-9 defeat. And with Rutgers sitting just one spot behind NU in the Big Ten standings, a win Saturday would clinch a Big Ten Tournament berth for the Cats.
Both teams can still grab one of the four spots in the Big Ten Tournament, but making that tournament won’t necessarily be enough for NU, as the Cats will likely be looking to qualify for the NCAA Tournament as one of the 13 at-large teams.
However, to put itself in that position, the team has to finish the regular season and conference tournament with an overall record of at least .500. With its final two games coming against the Scarlet Knights and the unbeaten Maryland Terrapins, the Cats will need to come away with at least one win to put themselves in a comfortable position going into the Big Ten Tournament.
For the team’s long-tenured leader Kelly Amonte Hiller, this recent feeling of living on the edge is unfamiliar, but she said Saturday’s game will nevertheless be a battle.
“We’re worried about the Big Ten Tournament first and just getting a spot there,” she said. “This game is crucial for us in all aspects, so we have a great sense of urgency right now.”
The past two years have been a bit of an anomaly for NU, as the team has not experienced the same level of dominance as it did for much of the last 15 years. Last season, the Cats went into the last week of April with a sub-.500 record — the first time since the program became a varsity sport in 2002.
Senior attacker Christina Esposito, who leads the team in scoring with 34 goals, was a key member of last year’s late offensive resurgence that propelled the team to the finals of the conference tournament. Esposito said being put in this position for the second time isn’t as jarring, as the team has some familiarity with the situation.
“This is a playoff game for us,” Esposito said. ”This is an extremely huge conference game. We need this win, so we’re excited to go to the East Coast and get a win there.”
Although the team is far from eliminated from postseason play, there still is room for some concern. NU currently has a scoring offense ranked outside the top 50 in the country and a scoring defense sitting at No. 37 in the nation.
But the team has seen a recent surge in its scoring efforts from the defensive third. Sophomore defender Claire Quinn has sparked a new sense of urgency from the defense, scoring her first three career goals this year. The sophomore said having two seasons of living on the edge under her belt has fully prepared her for what lies ahead.
“It’s important to forget about the past and work on our team now and work on the future,” Quinn said. “Yes, it was a great dynasty, but we have a lot of good energy to work with now and it’s important to use that.”
With NU now floating in the middle of the pack, its players will have to step up to the occasion and make some noise to finish the season. But that all starts with a win Saturday.