February 22, 2011

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NCAA Preview: No. 2 Northwestern

by Matt Forman | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

The February issue of Lacrosse Magazine features an extensive NCAA lacrosse preview, from Division I through Division III, plus in-depth features on the top-ranked Syracuse men and the snake-bitten Cal women. Lacrosse Magazine Online (laxmagazine.com) examines the key players, strengths, weaknesses, best- and worst-case scenarios, sleepers, what's new, what's not and rival coaches' takes on each of the top 10-ranked teams in Division I men's and women's lacrosse.

MEN: 10 COR | 9 HOF | 8 DUKE | 7 UND | 6 PTON | 5 MD | 4 SB | 3 UNC | 2 UVA | 1 CUSE
WOMEN: 10 UND | 9 JMU | 8 PENN | 7 UVA | 6 GTOWN | 5 CUSE | 4 DUKE | 3 UNC | 2 NW | 1 MD

NO. 2 NORTHWESTERN


"She's going to be crucial when our backs are against the wall and we need a play," Kelly Amonte Hiller says of Northwestern attacker Erin Fitzgerald.

Head Coach: Kelly Amonte Hiller
Conference: ALC
2010 Records: 20-2, 5-0
2011: Schedule

KEY PLAYERS

A Shannon Smith (Jr.)
First-team AA scored 69 goals, including at least one in every game, and was third nationally with 102 points. An early Tewaaraton Trophy favorite. Said Amonte Hiller: "She's very dynamic."

A Erin Fitzgerald (So.)
Scored 24 of her 35 goals in nine games as a starter. Figures to be second offensive option. Amonte Hiller: "She's going to be crucial when our backs are against the wall and we need a play."

M Alex Frank (Jr.)
Second-team AA battled ankle injury last year, but still finished with 26g, 11a. Also a draw specialist. Said Amonte Hiller: "She's a very smart player, and she's going to be very hungry coming off her injury."

STRENGTHS

• As with every Amonte Hiller team, speed and athleticism
• All four defensive starters return in front of goalie Brianne LoManto

WEAKNESSES

• Inexperience, with only five seniors on the roster
• Just one starter returns on attack

BEST CASE

The young offense quickly grows up and seamlessly replaces Dowd and Spencer; Northwestern proves difficult to contain and rides its balanced attack to the national title.

WORST CASE

The defending national runners-up struggle against a schedule that features 10 games against NCAA tournament qualifiers; they don't win the ALC for the first time in seven years and don't make it to Stony Brook for the final four.

SLEEPER

M Amanda Macaluso (So.)
Inserted to the starting lineup after the mid-season loss to North Carolina, Macaluso provided an offensive spark, including a hat trick against Duke in the NCAA quarterfinal. Will get a chance to start on attack.

RIVAL COACH'S TAKE

"We like playing them. They have separated themselves as a program as a team to beat."

"There's no love lost there. Another team we like to play. They always have kids chomping at the bit for their time in the sun."

"They're looking for players to step up and lead that team. I don't think they were as dominant as they've been in the fall. I think they're at a state where they lost two of their best players in program history."

"Lost a lot. Not nearly as skilled when Kristen Kjellman, Meredith Frank, Hannah Nielsen were around. Don't think Shannon Smith can run the show by herself."

“They’ll never quit, never give up and never go away. They’ll have a lot of energy coming off a championship loss. They’ll come back more motivated and hungry to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”

WHAT'S NEW?

Eleven freshmen make up one of the nation's most heralded recruiting classes.

WHAT'S NOT?

Scott Hiller, Kelly's husband, returns for his ninth season as a volunteer assistant coach; his role has expanded in recent years.

.892

Winning percentage at home for the Wildcats under Amonte Hiller, which included a streak of 58 straight victories from 2004-2010.


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