Northwestern's Lasota, Weisse Shine in Opener
DURHAM, N.C. — No. 5 Northwestern outlasted No. 12 Duke, 11-8, in an early-season showdown of women's lacrosse teams that collided with matching strengths and matching weaknesses Sunday.
Under cloudy skies and 40-degree temperatures, Northwestern's high-powered offense was fully intact behind All-American Selena Lasota and Sheila Nesselbush. Lasota scored five goals for the Wildcats, Nesselbush three. Duke, meanwhile, returned a veteran defense, anchored by goalie Kelsey Duryea, who made a career-high 16 saves in the loss.
But perhaps more importantly in this matchup of teams with final four experience and expectations, both rosters had question marks on the other end of the field. The Blue Devils (1-1) lost five of their top six scorers after advancing to the NCAA semifinals last year, while Northwestern was looking for a replacement for two-time All-American goalie Bridget Blanco.
As the Wildcats (1-0) streamed off the bench at the final whistle, they headed not toward Lasota, who dominated all day, but toward goalie Mallory Weisse. The freshman from Westfield, N.J., whom coach Kelly Amonte Hiller tabbed as the starter only late last week, had eight saves against the Blue Devils, several on point-blank drives.
"She had some great saves for us, and in a timely manner said," Amonte Hiller said. "Anytime you can get a big save from the goalie, it gives you an emotional boost, and I think there was a lot of emotional boosts both ways."
Indeed, while Weisse was a welcome surprise for the Wildcats, Duke could take comfort that Duryea appears to have regained her All-American form. Duke's senior goalie faced relentless pressure from the Northwestern attack. While Lasota needed 16 shots to get her five goals against Duryea. Duryea stopped Lasota on multiple point-blank chances that came after the Northwestern star had blazed past a double team.
"It's a bummer to waste a 16-save game on a loss," Blue Devils coach Kerstin Kimel said. Duke was missing two defensive starters. "We are a little inexperienced in front of her, and I think she did a great job of really holding tough and making some really stellar saves for us."
"Duke's goalie played phenomenal," Amonte Hiller said. "We had some chances to really gain some momentum on offense, and Duke's goalie kinda stomped that."
But on the other end, Duke never found the offense to capitalize on Duryea's day. Tellingly, Duke's goals came from six different scorers, a sign of balance but also, as the game wore on, Kimel said, possibly of timidity. The Blue Devils held the ball several times for multiple-minute possessions in the second half without threatening to score. Duke showed a more measured, disciplined passing offense than 2015's slashing style, trying to dare, lull or tire Northwestern's defense into a mistake.
But even when holes opened or cutters came loose, the Blue Devils shots weren't strong enough to beat Weisse.
"A little bit of it was what they were doing defensively, and I think we were overthinking things," Kimel said.
Duke took just 12 shots in each half, and converted just one of seven free positions in the game. Even Duke players awarded 8-meter opportunities were often content to pass or roll out rather than shoot. "We knew coming in we needed to step up to line and finish those shots and we didn't," Kimel said.
Another bright spot for Duke was freshman Olivia Jenner. Matched up with Northwestern's Shelby Fredericks, the freshman from Annapolis, Md., controlled five draws, the game high. She also briefly took over for Duke's offense, scoring back-to-back goals on identical drives from the left corner to tie the game 8-8 with eight minutes left.
But the Wildcats responded with two goals in 44 seconds to retake a lead they never gave back, when Kaleigh Craig and then Lasota scored on unsettled transition out of the draw.
"It wasn't our most perfect performance, but you are never going to get that on first game," Amonte Hiller said. "We set the bar very high playing a team like Duke this early. The girls fought hard, they came back from an early deficit and overall we were happy."
The fifth-ranked Wildcats opened the 2016 campaign with an 11-8 win over No. 12 Duke on Sunday.
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