Another weekend, another tough matchup for our No. 1-ranked Wildcats, who face No. 5 Florida on Saturday in a showdown of the American Lacrosse Conference's top two teams that will determine league's regular season title. NU comes into the game 14-0 overall, and 4-0 in the conference, after last weekend's bruising come-from-behind non-conference win, 8-7, over No. 3 North Carolina and a 16-12 conference victory that was closer than it needed to be against No. 19 Johns Hopkins.
Florida, meanwhile, which dealt NU one of its two losses last year, comes into the game 14-2, 4-0. The Gators' two losses have come against UNC and No. 2 Syracuse. While NU has already beaten both of those teams, Florida is still a team to be wary of. Besides having beaten NU last year (the Wildcats did get their revenge in the NCAA tournament), Florida is riding a 10-game winning streak. The Gators feature a balanced line-up, with four players already notching 30 goals. As a team, they rank second in the NCAA in scoring offense, and also first in scoring defense.
Against other top foes, including UNC last weekend, NU head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller has gone to secret defensive weapon Kerri Harrington, whose stat line is pretty remarkable. The sophomore shutdown defender has made all of two starts in her career. The first, amazingly, came in last year's NCAA championship game, when she was assigned to shadow Maryland's ace scorer Sarah Mollison, and Harrington held her scoreless for the first time all season. The second start came last weekend against UNC, when Harrington was again asked to faceguard a dangerous scorer, this time Laura Zimmerman, and held her without so much as even a shot.
Given that the Gators have multiple pick-your-poison scoring weapons, I don't think Harrington will get another start on Saturday, but if one of the Gators gets hot, expect to see Harrington subbed in, as she has in several games this season, to put the clamps down.
As for the rest of our Wildcats, Shannon Smith continues to lead the way offensively, with 48 goals, after scoring three against JHU and two against UNC. She ranks eighth in Division 1 in goals per game. Erin Fitzgerald is now up to 37 goals, giving the Wildcats a nice one-two punch up front. She scored 4 goals against JHU. Kara Mupo has also chipped in 27 goals. In net, Brianne LoManto still leads Division 1 in goals-against-average, at 6.84.
Of course, those are the easy stats to count. Taylor Thornton's contributions to the team are easy to see on the field, but less visible on the stat sheet, though she does have 35 ground ball controls and 52 draw controls, evidence of her athleticism. Alyssa Leonard is NU's top draw specialist, with 55 draw controls. And LoManto's sparkling record comes in large part due to the smothering defense in front of her, led by Alex Frank, Christy Turner, and Lacey Vigmostad, among others.
Should be a great game at Lakeside Field on Saturday, but if you can't get out to Evanston, BTN will be showing it on tape delay at 4 p.m. CT. If you're like Rodger and haven't yet made it to a game yet, Saturday's match is just one of three remaining in the regular season for the Wildcats, all of them good ones. NU will face No. 7 Notre Dame on April 25 and No. 11 Virginia on April 28.
After that, it's the ALC tournament in Gainesville, Fla., and then the NCAA tourney starts.