There was a time not too long ago when there was legitimate concern surrounding the Northwestern women's lacrosse team, who had lost three games in a row against ranked ACC teams.
Now, many of those concerns have melted away.
The No. 11 Wildcats (3-3), building off a midweek 17-11 victory over Marquette, picked up a critical 7-6 win Saturday against the No. 10 Stony Brook Seawolves (2-2) at Lanny and Sharon Martin Stadium in Evanston.
The victory over the nation’s tenth-best team brings Northwestern back up to .500 on the season. And with even more ranked teams to come in the next few weeks, Northwestern head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller realized the importance of her team’s Saturday victory.
“I didn’t say it was a must-win, but in the back of my head I thought this would be a great win if we can get it,” Amonte Hiller said. “Stony Brook’s a great team. They’re a contender. They can play with anyone on any given day, so I’m really pleased we were able to come up with the win today.”
The Seawolves got on the board first Saturday, but Northwestern pumped out three goals in four minutes, taking a 3-1 lead with exactly 10 minutes gone in the half. The teams traded goals midway through the frame, with Danita Stroup restoring the Cats’ two-goal lead with 15:56 left in the frame.
But then the momentum changed. Northwestern sophomore Selena Lasota had an incredible would-be goal waved off do to an illegal stick violation, and the Seawolves seized the momentum. Murphy struck again on the ensuing woman-up scenario, and, after fellow junior Dorrien Van Dyke leveled the score, Murphy completed her hat trick with 3:35 remaining to put Stony Brook on top 5-4 heading into halftime.
Corinne Wessels tied the score just over a minute into the half, and the ‘Cats regained the lead with 21:02 left thanks to Christina Esposito. But Murphy found herself in some space in front of the cage and finished off her fourth goal of the game to even the score at six apiece with 13:43 to play.
While Stony Brook goaltender Anna Tesoriero was able to stop a few free-position shots, she couldn’t keep the ‘Cats off the board forever. With just over eight minutes to play, Kaleigh Craig resumed play on a self-start, charged down a third of the field and buried a shot over the freshman’s right shoulder to give Northwestern a 7-6 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
“They were not ready for it, so we took advantage,” Craig said. “It was awesome.” Utilizing the lack of a shot clock, the ‘Cats killed the final four minutes of the contest by keeping possession, and escaped with a 7-6 win.
Shelby Fredericks dominated on draw controls against Stony Brook, picking up five and guiding Northwestern to a 9-1 advantage in the first half, and a 14-2 edge overall.
“She was really motivated at halftime of the last game against Marquette, and she came out in the second half and dominated, and she did it again today,” said Amonte Hiller. “That makes a huge difference for your team if you can win that many and be that dominant on draw controls.”
Northwestern’s defense was the real difference in the game. The six goals allowed were its fewest this season and the fewest the team has allowed since a 16-6 demolition of Ohio State in April of last year.
This win over a top-10 team is certainly one the Wildcats will look to build on as they enter into yet another incredibly difficult stretch of opponents. Three of Northwestern’s next four foes are presently ranked in the top 20, including No. 4 North Carolina, which Northwestern will face on March 20 in Evanston. Still, a grinding win like this one should do wonders for the confidence of a team that many were starting to worry about just a week or so ago.