Lacrosse: Northwestern prepares for opening matchup of NCAA Tournament

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Lacrosse: Northwestern prepares for opening matchup of NCAA Tournament

The Wildcats talk after a goal. NU will begin its 2019 NCAA Tournament run this Sunday at home.

The Wildcats talk after a goal. NU will begin its 2019 NCAA Tournament run this Sunday at home.

Daily file photo by Alison Albelda

The Wildcats talk after a goal. NU will begin its 2019 NCAA Tournament run this Sunday at home.

Daily file photo by Alison Albelda

Daily file photo by Alison Albelda

The Wildcats talk after a goal. NU will begin its 2019 NCAA Tournament run this Sunday at home.

Ella Brockway, Sports Editor

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The last time Northwestern entered the NCAA Tournament as the No. 4 seed, it left with the national championship.

It was 2006. Coach Kelly Amonte Hiller was in her fifth year at the helm of the varsity program, and the title was the second of seven in a span of eight years. The Wildcats’ tournament run began with a 17-9 win over Stanford and ended with a 7-4 championship game victory against Dartmouth.

In 2019, Amonte Hiller is still in charge, but it’s been five years since NU even advanced to a Final Four. With a 14-4 record and a win over perennial powerhouse Maryland under its belt, the No. 4 Cats (14-4, 7-1 Big Ten) are seeking to re-ascend the mountain they stood atop for so long. And coincidentally, the first step of this year’s journey could come against Stanford.

NU will play its first game of the NCAA Tournament at home Sunday against the winner of Friday’s first-round matchup between the Cardinal (13-5, 7-3 Pac-12) and Notre Dame (13-4, 5-2 ACC). The Cats last faced Stanford in 2013, and upset the Fighting Irish 15-11 on the road this April.

“The success of this past weekend has given everyone a lot of confidence and everyone’s feeling focused and determined,” Amonte Hiller said. “We are not satisfied with just a Big Ten championship.”

NU enters the weekend on a five-game win streak, its last loss coming in the regular season to the Terrapins on April 11. The Cats’ offense is firing on all cylinders. Selena Lasota, who was named a finalist for the Tewaaraton Award on Thursday, is averaging the fourth-most goals per game in the country, and the trio of freshman Izzy Scane, sophomore Lauren Gilbert and junior Lindsey McKone has scored 44 goals in the last five games.

NU defense is finding its rhythm at the right time, too. While the Cats still allow 13.8 goals a game, their play has drastically improved since senior Mallory Weisse took over in net. In NU’s last six matchups, Weisse has totaled 68 saves, collecting double-digit saves in each game. Against Maryland last Sunday, the Cats won 19 draw controls and went a perfect 20-for-20 on clear attempts.

Since losing to NU on April 20, Notre Dame has played just one game, dropping a tight 14-13 contest to Duke in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament. Friday’s game against Stanford will be its first in 16 days.

Should Notre Dame advance to the second round with a win over the Cardinal, NU’s biggest task would again be shutting down leading scorer Maddie Howe, who averages nearly three goals a game. The Cats face-guarded Howe when the two teams faced off earlier this season and held the attacker to just one score, but she rebounded from that performance with four tallies against the Blue Devils.

The Cardinal finished third in the Pac-12 this season, picking up ranked wins over Stony Brook and Colorado and advancing to the semifinals of the conference tournament. All-Pac-12 attacker Ali Baiocco currently has 50 goals and 28 assists on the season, and leads the conference with 71 points.

In 2013, Notre Dame and Stanford also met for a NCAA Tournament first-round game played in Evanston. Stanford won that game 8-7, and then NU, seeded No. 2 overall, claimed a 15-8 victory in the second round.

For now, the past is the past, and the Cats are only focusing on the game at hand.

“We want to seek more for this program, and that’s what Sunday’s about,” Amonte Hiller said. “It’s seeking another opportunity to get a game the following week and hopefully the following week after that. But we’ve got to take it one game at a time.”

Email: ellabrockway@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @ellabrockway

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