Wildcats keep on winning

By Nader Ihmoud

Winning six of the last seven national championships has not slowed down the Northwestern University Wildcats’ women’s lacrosse team, which is undefeated through its first five games of the season as of press time.

Head Coach Kelly Hiller, now in her 11th year, believes the team still has a lot of work to do, despite returning 13 of 14 players who scored more than one goal for last year’s national championship.

“I think we are doing some nice things,” Hiller said after the team’s fourth win of the season. “The kids are really starting to gain some confidence. But we have some gelling to do together, and we are trying all kinds of different people, seeing what people do and seeing who plays well together. It’s a growing process.”

The Wildcats won their first home game of the season March 3 against the University of Oregon Ducks at Lakeside Field, 2400 Campus Drive. Northwestern improved to 72-1 at home since 2005 following the home opener.

“Today I had opportunities, and I took them,” said senior midfielder Jessica Russo. “And really, that was [because] other people [were] coming through for me.”

The Wildcats’ depth is a huge part of their game, according to Hiller.

“In general, we try to wear teams down by playing a lot of people, and sometimes it takes a little time to open up the door and put our opportunities away,” she said.

Russo was one of the 10 scorers in the victory over the Ducks, making four of the team’s 15 goals that afternoon.

Six seniors are among 10 starters from last year’s Wildcats team. Senior attacker Shannon Smith leads the team with 16 goals so far this season. She twice matched her season-high of five goals, once against the No. 5 Duke University Blue Devils and again against the No. 9 Syracuse University Orange.

Smith set a single season record for the Wildcats last season when she scored 86 goals, and her 128 points are the second highest in Northwestern’s history.

Despite Smith’s dominance this season, she is not the only returning team member to be excited about the Wildcats. Last year’s Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association’s Defensive Player of the Year Taylor Thorton and goalkeeper Brianna LoManto are also still playing. Northwestern is 46-4 with LoManto in goal.

The defending national champions, averaging approximately nine goals against them, are ranked eighth in the nation. The Wildcats also did not give up double-digit points in any of its six postseason games last season.

So far the team has defeated three top 10 nationally ranked opponents. Northwestern has only trailed once this season early in the match against ninth-ranked Syracuse early, but led by Smith, the team won in overtime.

Since 2009, the Wildcats have played 53 games against nationally ranked opponents, including the postseason. The team has won 50 of those matches, including a 27-3 record against top 10 opponents.