February 4, 2014

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#LMRanks: No. 4 Northwestern Wildcats (WD1)

by Jonah L. Rosenblum | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Christina Esposito could be a key for a Northwestern team that graduated a ton of scoring talent. (Dirk Dewachter)

Previous: No. 5 Florida Gators

Vitals

2013 Record: 19-3 (6-1 ALC)
Coach: Kelly Amonte Hiller (13th year)
Record at Northwestern: 215-33

Power Ratings

Offense: 3
Defense: 4
Goalkeeping: 4
Draw Control: 5

Top Returner

Kara Mupo (Jr.)
Kara Mupo, if she's healthy, is going to get chances to score. Take free-position opportunities. Erin Fitzgerald, Amanda Macaluso and Taylor Thornton took 79 of Northwestern's 150 free-position shots (52.7 percent) in 2013. All three graduated. Expect Mupo, who made 6 of 10 her sophomore season, to help pick up the slack.

X-Factor

A Alyssa Leonard (Sr.)
The senior attacker and draw control threat out of Bay Shore, N.Y., emerged as a scoring option in 2013. After she took a mere 15 shots her sophomore season, tied for 13th on the Wildcats, Leonard multiplied her total by five (76) in her junior season. She finished behind only Erin Fitzgerald in shots – and she capitalized, placing second on the team with 37 goals and 49 points. Her .487 shooting percentage and .737 shots on goal clip prove that Leonard is far more than a draw control specialist.

NCAA Tournament Trend

2009 - Champion
2010 - Runner-Up
2011 - Champion
2012 - Champion
2013 - Semifinals

What's New?

Kelly Amonte Hiller continues to reach beyond the traditional lacrosse hotbeds of New York, Maryland and Massachusetts, with incoming freshmen from Florida and Georgia. When she picks up a more local recruit, say from Land of Lincoln powers Loyola and New Trier, remains to be seen.

Telling Number

59
The percentage of Northwestern's scoring from 2013 lost to graduation.

Enemy Lines

Opposing coaches thoughts on the Wildcats

"Pivotal year for Amonte to show that Northwestern can regain their form."

"After last year's devastating loss to North Carolina, Kelly will have this team back and motivated to fight for a national championship."

"Consistent powerhouse in both the ALC and NCAA. Need to replace Fitzgerald and Thornton, but Leonard and company still powerful for the Cats."

"Can you ever really count them out? Even when they don't look great on paper, they find a way to win games. Adding [Cornell transfer and 2013 Ivy League Defender of the Year] Kate Ivory only helps bolster their talent and leadership. A lot of coaches would like to see them drop out of the top 10, but I don't see that happening this year."

"For a team that is used to being No. 1, Northwestern wants the spot back. This squad is stacked with point scorers in their current senior class and won't let anyone notice Thornton's absence."

"This will be an interesting year for Northwestern to see if they can get back on top."

"No longer invincible but it's hard to bet against a team with all those titles."

"You can never count out Kelly's team, no matter who she loses to graduation."

"Anytime Kelly loses you feel bad for their next opponent. I'm not sure they have the leaders or depth to sustain it all season."

"Physical and willing to do anything to win."

"After the somewhat disappointing performance in the final four, I think Kelly is going to have her team gunning to get back and show they can dominate."

"A perennial power. Having Mupo back will help."

"Northwestern is always just a solid team. They come in with a team atmosphere so people are looking at preseason players of the year and Northwestern doesn't come up with any players, but then they go and beat everybody. I think they have mastered the team concept, and this year won't be any different. I'm sure they are coming back fired up about not getting to the finals last year because the expectations for them were so high, so I'm sure they will come in ready to kick some butt real quick."

2013 Recap

In a Nutshell: The Northwestern dynasty has been encountering increased resistance for a while. Five straight seasons of one loss or fewer from 2005-2009 were followed my multiple losses and upsets in 2010 (North Carolina, Maryland), 2011 (Florida, Johns Hopkins) and 2012 (Florida twice). But 2013 brought about new difficulties for the Wildcats, who were denied entry to the championship game for the first time since 2004.

High Point: After Northwestern fell 22-3 to Florida during the regular season, it was tempting to say there was a new top dog in the American Lacrosse Conference. Not so. The Wildcats clawed back with an 8-3 victory in the ALC title game. Northwestern dominated draw controls, 10-3, and shots, 24-9, in holding Florida to a program-low three goals. Equally refreshing, less known players like Kat DeRonda, Kelly Rich, Alyssa Leonard and Kate Macdonald, all due to return in 2014, provided all of the scoring.

Low Point: Florida has long been a challenging nemesis for Northwestern – the Gators have defeated the Wildcats three years running – but a 22-3 loss in Gainesville was unlike anything seen from the purple and white in a long time. Five different Florida players (Kitty Cullen, Shannon Gilroy, Ashley Bruns, Brittany Dashiell and Gabi Wiegand) tallied hat tricks, while no one aside from Erin Fitzgerald and Taylor Thornton scored for Northwestern.

2013 Preview

Best Case: Northwestern generates momentum behind a fairly benign early schedule, then picks up consecutive Sunday wins against Syracuse and North Carolina, eventually coasting into Wrigley Field for its regular season finale with a perfect record and No. 1 seed. Kara Mupo and Christina Esposito explode in their return from injuries, Bridget Bianco shows progress in her second full season as the Wildcats' goalkeeper and Kate Ivory adds experience to an already deep defense. Meanwhile, freshmen and fellow first-team All-Americans Catie Ingrilli, straight out of perennial Long Island contender Wantagh, and Lydia Cassada, who scored 280 career goals in leading Milton to four straight state championships, contribute to a diversified attack and eighth national championship.

Worst Case: An offense that was held to 12 goals or fewer on 11 separate occasions in 2013 takes another step back with elite scorers Erin Fitzgerald and Taylor Thornton gone. The Wildcats suffer to find alternative options as touted scorers Kara Mupo and Christina Esposito struggle in their return from injuries. Opponents mimic Syracuse and figure out a way to keep Alyssa Leonard from popping the ball into the air on draw controls, and Northwestern, always talented enough to pull in a top seed, falls to Syracuse, Florida, North Carolina, Maryland or some other top tier team before the final four.

Self-Examination— Kelly Amonte Hiller on...

Kate Ivory: "This is the first time that we've ever had a fifth year like this. We felt like Kate was very in line with our philosophy. I think she had a great experience at Cornell and she brings a great breadth of wisdom and I think she is able to kind of really get and understand the different things that we don't understand from our perspective. She's really pushing her teammates and she's been a great leader."

Lydia Cassada: "Lydia has done really well for this fall. Working out in the fall, she really got a lot of confidence. She has been pushing and working hard quite a bit."

Catie Ingrilli: "She's just really athletic. She's very coachable. She's that player that does all the little things that you might not notice every time, but she is just such a great player, very coachable, and I think she'll do the big things for us. You may or may not notice it, but it will be big, and I know that for sure."


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