Another year, another daunting schedule for Northwestern lacrosse. Winners of seven of the last eight national championships, the ‘Cats have their work cut out for them this spring against a myriad of ranked opponents. As the team begins its quest for another threepeat, here are the games to circle on the Wildcats’ schedule.
Feb. 22: at No. 5 North Carolina
The first major test for the Wildcats will come when they travel to Chapel Hill to take on North Carolina. A year ago, Northwestern had to come back from a halftime deficit to knock off the Tar Heels 8-7.
“We always play tough games against UNC,” said senior midfielder Gabby Flibotte. “They have a lot of good players.”
Fortunately for the ‘Cats, Carolina’s First Team All-American, attacker Becky Lynch, has graduated. Lynch led the Tar Heels with three goals and three draw controls in last year’s close defeat.
Still, UNC has a slew of great returning players. Among them are two other All-Americans, second-teamer Sloane Serpe and third-teamer Kara Cannizzaro. North Carolina will be looking to avenge a tough loss, and on the road, they cannot be taken lightly.
March 30: vs. No. 2 Syracuse
Can you say round two?
After knocking off Syracuse 8-6 in last year’s national championship, Northwestern hosts the Orange for a rematch with huge postseason implications.
“They’re very aggressive, so they really have no fear when they go out there,” Flibotte said. “They always play tough.”
Among Syracuse’s three returning First Team All-Americans is the nation’s leading goal scorer from a year ago, junior Alyssa Murray. But for the Wildcats, the most concerning Orange attack is Michelle Tumolo.
The senior put in three goals and added two assists in an 11-9 overtime loss to Northwestern last February, but the ‘Cats were able to hold her to just one goal in the championship match.
“She’s probably not happy with how last year ended...so she’s going to come out and play hard against us,” said junior midfielder and team captain Christy Turner.
April 12: vs. No. 7 Duke
Duke’s no stranger to Northwestern’s recent reign over women’s lacrosse.
Since 2006, the Wildcats have won eight straight meetings with the Blue Devils. But despite the streak of dominance, this game is not one that the ‘Cats are going to overlook.
“Duke is always a really physical game,” said Flibotte. “They have a big rivalry with us, so it’s always really competitive.”
The Blue Devils lost All-Americans Emma Hamm and Kim Wenger to graduation, but their depth keeps them ranked in the top ten. Duke has fallen to Northwestern in two of the last three NCAA Tournaments, and emotions should run high in April’s rematch.
April 30: at No. 3 Florida
The Wildcats are all too familiar with late season battles against Florida, and the Gators are proving to be the defending champs’ peskiest opponent. In 2012, the only two blemishes on the Northwestern schedule came in losses to Florida, which went from a 1-4 conference record in 2010 to a perfect 5-0 last year.
“They’ve come a long way in the past three years, so it’ll be interesting to see what they put out this year,” said junior midfielder Alyssa Leonard. “I think that’s going to be a great matchup.”
If it’s anything like the performances Florida put out a year ago, Northwestern better come prepared. The Gators eked out an 8-7 victory during the regular season, then took down Northwestern 14-7 in the conference tournament championship game. It was the first time that the Wildcats had lost by seven goals since 2003.
Freshman phenom Shannon Gilroy scored seven of the Gator goals in the second defeat, making her a key concern for Northwestern this season. First Team All-American Brittany Dashiell adds another threat for the ‘Cats to deal with.
While these are the four most daunting matches of the regular season, they’re certainly not the only games to look out for. Twelve of Northwestern’s 17 opponents are ranked in the preseason IWLCA Coaches Poll, and each one will bring their best effort in trying to knock off the Wildcats. It’s a tough position to be in, but the defending champs wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Every game that we go into, we know that everybody’s trying to take us down,” said Turner. “Every one’s our hardest game.”