Teams don’t qualify for the NCAA Tournament solely based on pedigree or historical success.
In college women’s lacrosse, a team needs to finish with a winning percentage of .500 or better just to be eligible for the postseason.
After Saturday, the path is simple for Northwestern: if the 'Cats do not win next Friday, one of the most storied programs in women’s lacrosse won’t even qualify for the postseason in 2016. No. 17 Northwestern (7-8, 2-2 B1G) headed out east to Happy Valley to take on No. 16 Penn State (11-4, 3-1 B1G) on Saturday morning. Though the Wildcats led with nine minutes left in the game, a late Nittany Lions run gave the home team a 17-13 lead on their Senior Day, and forced Northwestern into a must-win situation next week.
The game was quite close throughout, with neither team leading by more than two goals until the final minutes. Northwestern’s Shelby Fredericks sparked a run with a woman-up free-position goal with 16:36 left in the first half to tie the score at three. Two more goals from the ‘Cats expanded their lead to 5-3 with 12:46 left in the frame, but after the teams traded goals, Penn State went on a 3-0 run of their own to take a 7-6 lead. A Christina Esposito goal with 1:16 left in the half sent the teams into halftime tied at seven.
In the second half, Penn State would jump out to leads of 8-7, 9-8, 11-9 and 12-11. But, every time, Northwestern fought back and tied it. After Penn State’s Madison Carter scored a woman-up goal to put her team up 12-11, Northwestern’s Nancy Dunbar and Leighton Yenor each scored their second goal of the game to put the Wildcats ahead with 9:15 to play.
From then on, it was all Penn State. After Jenna Mosketti leveled the score at 13 with 8:34 to play, Northwestern’s Selena Lasota was ejected following her second yellow card. And Northwestern continued to rack up the fouls. Penn State finished the game on a 5-0 run, tacking on three goals just in that span from a woman-up situation. With one of their best attacking players out of the game, Northwestern was unable to mount a comeback, and lost one of their most important games of the season 17-13.
Esposito led the way for the Wildcats with four goals, but also turned the ball over five times. Lasota tallied three points before her ejection, while Fredericks remained hot with two points and five draw controls. Yenor, Dunbar and Danita Stroup all tallied twice for the Wildcats, whose scoring was rounded out by Kaleigh Craig. But a game after she tallied six times on six shots against Rutgers, Craig could only manage one shot against Penn State. Freshman goaltender Mallory Weisse recorded 11 saves, the most shots she’s stopped in a game this year. However, she also allowed 17 goals, tied for the most she’s surrendered.
Penn State features five players that have at least 20 goals on the year. On Saturday, all five of them scored at least twice; in fact, those five were the only players to score. Madison Carter, Madison Cyr and Katie O’Donnell each scored four times, Jenna Mosketti scored twice, and Steph Lazo added a hat trick of her own. Lazo and Cyr also each had three assists, while Carter added nine draw controls, nearly as many as the entire Northwestern team. Goaltender Emi Smith made nine saves in the victory.
Penn State dominated statistically, outshooting Northwestern 35-26, out-drawing Northwestern 20-11 and winning the turnover battle by two. And with the loss, Northwestern finds itself in an unfamiliar situation: the Wildcats must go into Columbus next Friday and defeat the Ohio State Buckeyes. If they do, they have a chance to make the NCAA Tournament. If they do not, one of the most successful programs in women’s lacrosse history will be watching this year’s postseason from home.