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Lacrosse: Northwestern prepares return to New York for NCAA Tournament

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Christina Esposito cradles the ball. The senior attacker leads the Wildcats into their NCAA Tournament opener against Albany on Friday.

Christina Esposito cradles the ball. The senior attacker leads the Wildcats into their NCAA Tournament opener against Albany on Friday.

Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Christina Esposito cradles the ball. The senior attacker leads the Wildcats into their NCAA Tournament opener against Albany on Friday.

Ben Pope, Assistant Sports Editor

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Lacrosse


In early March, Northwestern traveled to Long Island for a two-game weekend, its first after the ultimately regular season-ending injury of star attacker Selena Lasota.

This weekend, the No. 11 Wildcats (10-9, 4-2 Big Ten) will be back on the island for another Friday game against Albany (12-5) and, hopefully, another Sunday game, too — the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament, hosted by No. 4 Stony Brook (18-1).

The evolution of NU’s offense in the two months between New York visits, as it has learned to adjust and make up for Lasota’s absence, is giving the team belief that it can earn a different fate this trip.

“Once Selena was out, we hit a little bump trying to move people around in different spots,” senior attacker Christina Esposito said. “Now, we have a core group that’s been playing together for a while, and … we’ve found our niches and our strengths within the offenses that we run.”

To describe that early March weekend as a “bump” for the Cats is an understatement. Barring Lasota, who had previously scored eight times in the first four games of the season, NU tallied only eight goals as a team in the two games combined — first a 5-3 loss to No. 9 Syracuse, then a 13-5 loss to Stony Brook.

The time since, however, has uncovered a number of new contributors in the lineup. Sophomore attacker Liza Elder, who didn’t score once in the first six games, has tallied 14 times since. Junior attacker Nicole Beardsley — a lefty like Lasota, who scored twice in the first six games — has also recorded 14 since.

Even freshman attacker Megan Kinna, who sported just eight prior career goals, made a huge play in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals last week, intercepting a pass and rushing in to score the late game-winning goal against No. 6 Penn State.

“We have a lot of different players that can do a lot of different things and we’re all good at different things, so it makes a really unique team and good teamwork on the field,” Kinna said. “This weekend, we’ve got to just keep on doing us.”

The Cats’ first-round opponent, Albany, rolled to a 12-5 record this season but beat only one ranked opponent along the way, despite giving both Syracuse and Stony Brook much closer games than NU did. Though Friday’s matchup will be only the second-ever meeting between the two schools, old connections still run between the Cats and Great Danes.

Albany coach John Battaglino formerly worked on the same Syracuse staff as Lisa Miller, who coached NU leader Kelly Amonte Hiller in high school — a fact that Amonte Hiller said helped her to get to know Battaglino.

“I have a lot of respect for … John,” Amonte Hiller said. “He does a great job with them. I know they’re very scrappy, very tough, very fundamentally sound.”

An NU win Friday would advance the team to a second-round game Sunday against the winner of Stony Brook and Bryant’s first-round game, potentially giving the Cats an opportunity to avenge the beating they took in that ill-fated March trip.

The difference could be the do-or-die mentality that the team, even without Lasota’s scoring punch, has fostered down the stretch of the season.

“The good thing for us is that we’ve had that mindset for a little bit now so we don’t have too many nerves or over-emotions,” Esposito said. “We just need to make sure we’re calm and focused for the next couple games.”

Email: benjaminpope2019@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @benpope111

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