Lacrosse: Wildcats prepare for quarterfinal rematch with North Carolina


Daily file photo by Alec Carroll

Claire Quinn turns on a defender. The junior attacker scored 4 goals in the Wildcats’ regular-season meeting with North Carolina.

Ella Brockway, Assistant Sports Editor


Northwestern’s 2018 season can be split into B.N.C. and A.N.C.: Before North Carolina, and After North Carolina.

The Wildcats’ 18-13 loss to the Tar Heels on March 17 — in which NU (15-5, 5-1 Big Ten) held a one-goal lead at halftime but then allowed North Carolina (16-3, 6-1 ACC) to score five straight unanswered goals as the game fell away — became a turning point in the Cats’ season.

Before North Carolina, NU hadn’t quite found its offensive rhythm yet, dropping a close road game in February to Duke and falling to Stony Brook at home. The Cats had converted on less than 40 percent of their shots in three of their first six games, and played without senior attacker Shelby Fredericks for four of those six.

After North Carolina, the Cats rattled off eight consecutive wins, five against ranked opponents, and scored at least 11 goals in every game. NU now averages the fourth-most draw controls per game in the country and sports a top-10 scoring offense.

Ahead of Saturday’s rematch against the No. 2 Tar Heels in the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals, coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said this is a different — and better — team than the one that lined up on the field that afternoon in Evanston two months ago.

“We’ve gotten a lot better offensively,” Amonte Hiller said. “Defensively … we’re more dynamic in that area. As the season grows, you grow as a group. UNC has grown as well, and they’re really firing on all cylinders at this point, so it should be a good game.”

This is the first time since 2015 that NU has made it to this stage in the tournament. The eyes of the lacrosse world will be watching the Cats this weekend with piqued interest after last weekend’s 45-goal record-breaking performance in first- and second-round wins against Richmond and No. 7 Towson.

The Cats have recently been experimenting with a new strategy in the draw-control circle: They rotate three players — senior attacker Shelby Fredericks, junior attacker Selena Lasota and freshman midfielder Brennan Dwyer — in the circle rather than rely on one single player to get the job done every single time.

That depth might give the Cats an edge in the circle on Saturday. While North Carolina midfielder Marie McCool won a game-high 13 draw controls in the Tar Heels’ second-round win over Virginia Tech, she also took the draw on 20 of North Carolina’s 27 attempts.

“Having three people that can do a lot, but also have their own things that they’re very, very good at, it’s hard to stop that,” Fredericks said. “If some person is struggling against a specific way that the other person’s taking it, then it’s no sweat. It’s the next girl up, and she’s just as good and can do her thing.”

Once they win the draw, it’ll be a fight for the Cats to find the openings in the North Carolina defense. After beating Towson’s zone last weekend by finding open cutters and relying on steady ball movement, North Carolina’s man-to-man defense may force the Cats to focus more on drives and isolation plays.

Junior attacker Claire Quinn scored four unassisted goals against the Tar Heels in March, and said the team’s improved confidence offensively will benefit them this time around.

“It’s (about) really being aggressive and doing everything with a purpose,” Quinn said. “They’re slow to slide, so if you’re aggressive, you’re going to find those openings in their defense.”

With a trip to the Final Four and the season on the line, facing North Carolina and its 10-game win streak is no easy task. The Tar Heels are just two years removed from their last national championship, and are still seeking revenge after Navy knocked them out in the quarterfinals last year.

Fredericks agrees with Amonte Hiller: These teams have both grown since they last met. If the Cats have it their way, there’ll be a different result this time, too.

“We’re a completely different team and so are they,” Fredericks said. “That’s why this opportunity is so awesome, because they really haven’t seen us and we haven’t seen them.”

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