Northwestern lacrosse fans may notice a few fresh faces on Lakeside Field this spring, and more observant followers may even hear a couple new accents.
The Wildcats will feature 14 freshmen this year in a recruiting class Inside Lacrosse named the nation’s best. After graduating nine seniors in 2014, including second team All-American Alyssa Leonard, the newcomers are here to immediately fill the void.
“We’re not just expecting seniors to lead and freshmen to carry the ball. That’s not the way we do things,” assistant coach Danielle Spencer explained. “So we’ve been working on getting them involved in the culture, where even as freshmen in their first year, they can be leaders.”
These aren’t your conventional recruits. Looking to revitalize the team after the Wildcats’ worst overall record since 2003, head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller and her staff searched well beyond the shores of Lake Michigan. Spencer found Selena Lasota, the nation’s third-ranked lax recruit, in British Columbia. A mere 4,700 miles in the opposite direction, Amonte Hiller plucked Iona Dryden out of Winchester, England.
The freshmen bring more than just foreign flair. Lasota was a 2014 Under Armor All-American, while Dryden was the youngest woman to play for Wales in both the 2012 European Championship and the 2013 World Cup. Still, they described college play as a steep challenge.
“It’s getting used to a new team, a new coaching staff,” Dryden said. “And just the speed of the game and the techniques they use in college are so different.”
Everything is more exhaustive, she explained. One hour of practice per day has become four. Five days per week stretch into seven.
“It’s time management,” Lasota said. “Staying together with school. Staying together with lacrosse.”
They’ll be forced to acclimate quickly. Leonard led last year’s team with 51 points. Her loss will only soften an offense that ranked 49th in the nation last year. The 2014 defense ranked in the Top 20, but the loss of Kerri Harrington and Kate Macdonald leaves obvious holes that Lyndsey Lafitte, the only defensive recruit, will have to fill.
Amonte Hiller clearly made scoring a point of emphasis this offseason. Northwestern nabbed five of Inside Lacrosse’s top 30 recruits, each of whom – Lasota, Shelby Fredericks, Emily Stein, Olivia Harpel and Corrine Wessels – play attack or are offensive-oriented midfielders.
Fredericks, the fourth-ranked recruit in the nation, was in the midst of an All-American season when she suffered her second career torn ACL in July. She scored 388 points in high school and has the athleticism to replace Leonard, but the lacrosse schedule will put her on the field just seven months after suffering an injury that generally requires a year of recovery. Fredericks is undeterred, though. She hopes to “be a threat” immediately and constantly.
“I want to contribute in any way that I can, whatever my role is – [which is] probably going to change game to game, practice to practice," Fredericks said. "You just have to come up, play your best.”
The Wildcats need the freshmen to step up, but the coaches are not asking them to replace any departed player. They want this crop to form their own culture, which, after a two-year championship drought, might be exactly what Northwestern needs.
“They’re going to become their own great players, so we don’t put pressure on them [by saying] ‘we need you to fill this role.’” Spencer said. “We just give them the opportunity to go and be the best you that you can be. Instead of people filling the holes that were left, we may just have a completely new look.”