February 19, 2011

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No. 2 Northwestern Opens with Win Over No. 10 Notre Dame

from press release

Northwestern's Alex Frank (two goals) hits the turf as Notre Dame goalie Ellie Hilling (seven saves) follows the play Saturday during the Northwestern's 14-11 victory.

© TD Paulius/Midwest Lacrosse Photography

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Second-ranked Northwestern knew its season-opening test at 10th-ranked Notre Dame would be a challenge, and it played out exactly as expected. Behind three goals from sophomore Erin Fitzgerald (Mt. Sinai, N.Y./Mt. Sinai) and a goal and three assists from junior Shannon Smith (West Babylon, N.Y./West Babylon), the Wildcats prevailed 14-11 over the Fighting Irish at the Loftus Sports Center.

"We knew coming in that this was going to be a very tough test against a very good team, and that's exactly what it was," said head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller. "I thought we did some things very well, and there are a lot of things we need to improve on. It was a good win and a good experience for our young team to get a victory over a top-level team."

Eight different Wildcats found the back of the net in the season opener, led by the hat trick for Fitzgerald and a pair each from senior Brooke Matthews (Baltimore, Md./Friends School), juniors Jessica Russo (Port Jefferson, N.Y./St. Anthony's) and Alex Frank (Westwood, Mass./Westwood) and sophomore Ali Cassera (Fairfield, N.J./West Essex). Smith, sophomore Taylor Thornton (Dallas, Texas/Hockaday School) and freshman Alyssa Leonard (Bay Shore, N.Y./Bay Shore) each netted a goal as well for Northwestern.

Notre Dame had a few solid chances early, but a pair of saves from Brianne LoManto (Miller Place, N.Y./Rocky Point) kept the Irish off the scoreboard. Then the Wildcat offense came to life Russo as notched the first goal of the season off a feed from Smith with just over 24 minutes remaining in the half.

Matthews would tally her first of the season just two minutes later, converting on a free position attempt. The ensuing draw was won by Thornton, who proceeded to race downfield, move behind the Notre Dame net, spun around an Irish defender and converted a goal just 30 seconds later to give the Wildcats the early 3-0 lead with 21:34 remaining in the opening half.

But Notre Dame found its own offensive spark, tallying three goals in a two minute span to knot the game at 3-3 with 19:31 remaining in the opening half. Russo stopped the bleeding with her second of the game, putting Northwestern back on top 4-3 less than a minute later. Smith then fed Frank in front of the net, and the Wildcats were back on top by two at 5-3 with just under 18 minutes to go. Leonard then slipped a hard angle shot between the pipes for her first career goal as NU completed its own 3-0 run, taking the lead 6-3 with 16:39 to go in the first.

After the furious start to open the game, play settled down a bit as Smith notched her first of the year with 10:33 to play, extending the lead to four at 7-3. A Notre Dame goal was then answered with a goal from Fitzgerald off a long outlet pass from Russo, pushing the lead back to four at 8-4 with 8:15 remaining in the opening half. The Irish would add two late tallies, sending the Wildcats to the locker room with an 8-6 lead.

Northwestern opened up the second half with its typical aggressive attack as Frank netted her second of the game off an assist from Smith with just 48 seconds burned off the clock. Cassera then added a free position goal less than two minutes later as the Wildcats went back on top by four at 10-6 early in the second half.

Notre Dame once again made a run, notching two goals in a three minute span to cut the gap to two at 10-8 before Cassera converted a free position to push the Wildcat lead back to three at 11-8 with 18:34 remaining in the game. Fitzgerald then converted a free position of her own two minutes later, extending the lead back to four at 12-8.

Once again, the Irish remained tough, notching three of the next four goals to cut the Wildcat lead to just a pair at 13-11 with 7:27 to play, sandwiching a free position goal from Fitzgerald. But a key free position goal by Matthews with five minutes to play pushed Northwestern back to a three goal cushion at 14-11. LoManto then made a pair of huge point-blank saves down the stretch for the Wildcats, giving her nine for the game as Northwestern was able to run out the clock and preserve the opening day victory.

Northwestern, the nation's leader in draw controls, asserted its authority once again against Notre Dame, outdrawing the Irish 22-5, including winning 17-straight draws during one stretch. Leonard won a game-high six for the Wildcats with Smith, Frank and Thornton each winning three for NU. But it was the 19 Wildcat turnovers and Notre Dame's 16-8 edge in ground balls that helped keep the game close.

With the victory, Northwestern improves its all-time record against Notre Dame to 11-2 and have now won 11 consecutive games against the Irish. The Wildcats also improved to 4-1 all-time in South Bend and won their season opener for the fourth consecutive season.

Northwestern continues its challenging five-game season-opening road trip this coming weekend, traveling to the Southeast for a pair of games against top-11 teams. The Wildcats face third-ranked North Carolina in Chapel Hill Friday, Feb. 25, before hopping over to Nashville, Tenn., for their American Lacrosse Conference opener against 11th-ranked Vanderbilt Sunday, Feb. 27.


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