For a long time, the Northwestern women’s lacrosse program was synonymous with excellence. The Wildcats dominated the lacrosse world from 2005 to 2014, making the NCAA Tournament Final Four every single year. Head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller has posted a nearly flawless 40-6 NCAA Tournament record since 2002, and the ‘Cats won seven NCAA Championships from 2005 to 2012. But Sunday, NU was embarrassed 15-3 by Notre Dame in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, falling short of the Final Four for the second year in a row. The Wildcats also finished the season with 10 losses - their first year with double-digit losses since 2002, when Amonte Hiller first took over. Which brings us to the million-dollar question: Is NU’s reign of dominance in women’s lacrosse officially over? Our sports editor, Will Fischer and our assistant sports editor, Rob Schaefer, are back to duke it out.
If you missed the first segment of Will & Rob argue, make sure you read it to understand what kind of ghastly opinions Robert truly has. This kid doesn’t know anything.
So, Robert, let me teach you a thing or two about the powerhouse that is Northwestern women’s lacrosse. They are really freakin’ good. From 2005 to 2012, there was only one year where the Wildcats weren’t the best team in their sport – and they still barely lost in the championship that season.
And head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller isn’t just a phenomenal coach – she’s a lacrosse messiah. I’m convinced she was actually sent by a higher power to lead NU to excellence.
So even though the ‘Cats have gone two years without a Final Four appearance, there’s no reason to panic. For starters, the standard that NU has to live up to is ridiculously high. When you win seven championships in eight years, that tends to happen. The Wildcats can still be one of the best teams in women’s lacrosse without making the Final Four every single year – that might just be unrealistic.
For example, basketball programs like Kansas, Duke or Kentucky are considered dominant, but they don’t always advance to the later rounds of the NCAA Tournament.
Every dynasty has down years, but it’s more about how the team bounces back. And NU is in a prime position to do that. A large reason for the Wildcats’ disappointment this season was a ridiculously rigorous schedule, one that can only get easier next year. And several key NU players are young and will return as improved players – Selena Lasota, Mallory Weisse, Ally Mueller, Shelby Fredericks, Kim Harker and Leighton Yenor are all just sophomores or freshmen.
Another reason for optimism is the faith that everyone should have in Amonte Hiller. The veteran coach has more than proved herself over 15 years of leading the ‘Cats, and is widely considered one of the best coaches in lacrosse. Amonte Hiller is revered for instilling an unbeatable work ethic and a lasting love for the game in all of her players, two qualities that go a long way in preserving a dynasty.
And sure, the lacrosse world has caught up since she took over NU in 2002. But it is largely the coach’s doing, as the Wildcats’ dominance has pushed the whole sport forward. You have to believe that Amonte Hiller will adapt and once again lead the ‘Cats to the top of the sport – she has proved to be too good of a lacrosse coach to accept anything less than excellence.
So while everybody else panics, I will be the stoic face that Northwestern women’s lacrosse needs. I will remain loyal and not waver under the adversity of two Final Four-less seasons. The Wildcats have simply been so good for so long, and I don’t think they are ready to fold just yet. With young talent and the winning mindset of Amonte Hiller, Northwestern women’s lacrosse will bounce back and regain its place at the top of women’s lacrosse for years to come.
Starting again with the personal attacks I see, William. These are the kind of shenanigans I’d expect to see from, say, the presumptive Republican Presidential nominee, not someone I considered to be a close friend and a respected peer.
Let’s talk about knowledge for a second, if you’ll allow me. You say I don’t know anything. Now, I’m sure you wouldn’t be hard pressed to find people who agree with that sentiment. But to me, as it pertains to Northwestern women’s lacrosse, knowledge is knowing when it’s time to move on.
That’s not an easy thing to hear for Northwestern sports fans. If you’ve had the fortune of reading the first installment of Will & Rob argue, you know I’m not exactly what you’d call optimistic about the Northwestern sports scene at the moment. But one team I rather conveniently left out of my evisceration of our fine university’s athletic department was the women’s lacrosse squad. A flabbergasting 202-17 record and seven National Championships from 2004 to 2013 earns you that much respect, at least in my book.
There’s certainly no evidence to call the three seasons since the end of this Auriemma-esque run of dominance (sorry, I’m a Connecticut boy) a disappointment. The team has amassed a 39-24 record from 2014 to 2016. Respectable. The team has advanced past the first round of the NCAA Tournament in each of these three years. Also respectable.
But respectable and dominant are neither synonymous nor interchangeable. Northwestern women’s lacrosse is and will continue to be competitive and certainly worth following, there’s not much to debate there. What I’m about to do goes against everything I stand for in the context of this series, but I’m man enough to admit you make select compelling points, William.
This is a young team, one more than capable of improving drastically as soon as next season. Amonte Hiller has an astounding track record, one you can trust. Their schedule was especially arduous in 2016, with 12 of the 21 teams they faced being ranked in the top 20 at the time of their game.
But the game may have just passed them by. Northwestern ended the season ranked 24th in the country in scoring offense and 60th in scoring defense. Draw controls were problematic throughout their campaign. Something tells me the dominant Wildcat squads of old don’t end their season with those kind of lingering issues. This used to be a team lamented by other sides as a particularly sharp pricker in a thorny schedule, not the reverse.
Dominant teams don’t lay eggs the size of the 15-3 debacle against Notre Dame in the second round of the NCAA Tournament Sunday. That’s not to mention the especially yolky 17-5 defeat to Maryland (who *cough* *cough* have won back-to-back titles and may be on its way to a third) in the Tournament last season.
It’s fine to be optimistic, William, but let’s be reasonable. This team isn’t what it used to be. But it’s okay. Respectability and competitiveness may be exactly what Northwestern sports needs right now. It was fun to be dominant, but those women’s lacrosse teams may be more than us bookworms deserve.