Northwestern Shows Poise, Downs Penn State 11-3
|Erin Fitzgerald (7) forced some
shots in Northwestern's one-goal win over Syracuse last weekend,
but after watching film with coach Kelly Amonte Hiller, she played
a more poised game on Friday against Penn State. Fitzgerald
finished with four goals.
© Anne Ryan
EVANSTON, Ill. — Against Syracuse last weekend, Northwestern struggled on the draw, fell behind early and forced far too many shots and passes. On Friday evening, the Wildcats fixed all of those problems to defeat Penn State 11-3 at Lakeside Field.
"Our main focus was just staying calm and staying poised and not forcing any shots like we did against Syracuse. I think it worked really well for us," senior attacker Erin Fitzgerald said. "We really worked the ball around and worked together. There was really no rushing the ball. Just taking it step by step and taking it play by play."
Heading into their marquee matchup on the shore of Lake Michigan, the Nittany Lions had never scored fewer than nine goals in a game all season long — Penn State scored just three goals on Friday.
"We were able to get out there and put some pressure on them and take them out of their offense," Northwestern coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said, "and really shake them up out there and make them play a little faster and it seemed to work in terms of keeping their score totals down."
Nittany Lions coach Missy Doherty said that her team struggled in its first encounter with a truly aggressive defense.
"Our young players are still getting used to a lot of different things and Northwestern gives you that coming-at-you defense and that's pretty rare for Division I," Doherty said. "We've played against a lot of defenses that sit back and we've gotten used to how to move them and score, and now thankfully they have another experience of a team pressuring us out so in the future we can handle those situations better."
Though sophomore midfielder Tatum Coffey was able to maneuver around the field, Penn State was unable to set up strong chances for leading scorers Maggie McCormick and Mackenzie Cyr, who mustered just two shots between them.
Northwestern didn't waste any time finding the back of the net against Penn State. Fitzgerald scored a minute in, firing from 15 feet out. The Nittany Lions were then able to crack the Wildcats' pressure by skirting the double team and flinging a pass over the drawn out defense to senior attacker Molly Fernandez, who fired an uncontested shot into the back of the net, but the Wildcats responded with five straight goals, keeping the Nittany Lions off of the scoreboard for the next 26:03.
Though the Wildcats played the possession game to perfection in the second half, they still attacked the net, as senior midfielder Taylor Thornton and junior midfielder Kate Macdonald scored goals just 25 seconds apart in the penultimate minute of the game.
"Just play the full 60 minutes," Fitzgerald said. "We weren't trying to jam it down their throats. We were just going to keep playing our game and staying focused for the full game and then afterwards we can take a little rest until Sunday."
Fitzgerald finished the night with four goals, a vast improvement from her performance against the Orange, in which she forced several shots.
"After that game, we really broke it down and Kelly made a point to tell us to just stay calm and just chip away," Fitzgerald said, "and we did that and I think we did a really great job of that."
The Wildcats were also far improved on the draw, taking 10 of 16. Both teams were highly competitive on the draw, with very few clean sweeps, but Northwestern won the majority of the 50-50 balls to allow them to control the battle for time of possession.
"That was a focus for us," Amonte Hiller said. "I'm glad that we did that and Penn State is a pretty good team in regards to 50-50 balls and draw controls, they're very athletic and very speedy, so I was very happy with our performance there tonight."
The Wildcats have now won 14 straight against their conference rivals, with the Nittany Lions' last win coming in 2003.