Pope: Catastrophe strikes Northwestern lacrosse in double-whammy weekend

Ben Pope, Sports Editor


When interviewing Lindsay Darrell for a preview of Northwestern lacrosse’s Senior Day game on April 21, I made a mistake.

I asked Darrell, a senior defender, how she was feeling about playing her final career home game. Darrell correctly responded that it probably wouldn’t be her final one, given that all projections at that time had the Wildcats hosting one of eight regionals in this May’s NCAA Tournament.

I can only imagine how Darrell, fellow senior leaders like Sheila Nesselbush and Shelby Fredericks and the entire rest of the Wildcats’ squad felt Sunday night. They have, it turns out, seen the last of Martin Stadium this season.

After easily dispatching Rutgers in that April 21 game, NU did the exact two things — the only two things — it could not afford to do. The team came out a step slow in the final game of the regular season, falling to No. 3 Maryland and dropping to the second seed in the Big Ten Tournament. Then the Cats turned in an even worse defensive performance against No. 16 Penn State in the Big Ten semifinals, losing a matchup they were thoroughly expected to win and had indeed won just a few weeks prior.

The scale of NU’s collapse, albeit against two perennially elite opponents, is difficult to overstate. The team conceded 20 goals on 48 shots against the Terrapins and 21 goals on 40 shots against the Nittany Lions; the program had previously only allowed 20 goals once in their 21st-century history and, prior to this season, hadn’t given up 40 shots in a game since 2006 — as far back as the box score archives go.

The NCAA selection committee surely noticed this ice-cold finish to the season when deciding Sunday the Cats’ draw. They also likely docked NU for playing a schedule loaded with home games, for supposed top-tier opponents like Southern California and Syracuse underperforming (worsening the Cats’ strength of schedule) and for a bad early-season loss to Duke, which didn’t qualify for the tournament at all.

For much of this 2018 season, NU seemed like they had returned to the powerhouse status that had eluded them each of the past two years. Hosting a regional for the first time since 2015 seemed essentially cemented, and would have put the team in a favorable position to advance at least to the national quarterfinals.

Now, the great improvements the Cats made from 2017’s 11-10 squad seem rather irrelevant, cast aside by one tough but excusable defeat, a second, more indefensible one, and a bit of Sunday misfortune. In last year’s tournament, the team cruised past a decidedly lesser foe (Albany) before running up against a superior team on its home field (Stony Brook); this year, despite a dramatically better regular season, the opponents will be different in name (Richmond and Towson, respectively) but the postseason storyline will be the same — and so, in all likelihood, will be the team’s fate.

Fans can call this a double-whammy weekend of disasters for NU.

Fans can’t call the box office for tournament tickets, though. Only intramural soccer will be gracing the turf of Lakeside Field next weekend.

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Twitter: @benpope111