March 31, 2014

Northwestern Sends Carolina Packing with a Loss

from staff reports

EVANSTON, Ill. — Eighth-ranked Northwestern got three goals and an assist from All-American Alyssa Leonard and beat top-ranked North Carolina 7-5 in women's lacrosse Monday at Lakeside Field. The loss stopped North Carolina's 15-game winning streak dating back to last season and ended the best start in program history, while the Northwestern avenged its NCAA semifinal loss to the defending champion Tar Heels.

The game was originally scheduled to be played on Sunday but was delayed a day due to North Carolina's travel difficulties in getting to Chicago on Saturday. Players and coaches flew to Chicago on Monday morning prior to the game.

Northwestern (6-3) led from the start and held the Tar Heels (11-1) to a season-low five goals. North Carolina's previous low scoring output had been 13 goals against Penn. The Tar Heels started the season 11-0 with their closest game being a 14-10 decision at Virginia in early March.

"We wanted to neutralize their offense because they're very potent offensively," Wildcats coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. "Kerri Harrington marked up Aly Messinger and Haydyn Anigian did a great job on Abbey Friend. UNC's not a two-man show. It was great team defense, but those were definitely two focal points for us to start with."

Leonard's three goals all came in the first half.

"Alyssa is no stranger to big games and she thrives on this type of environment, so we know we can always count on her," Amonte Hiller said.

Kaleigh Craig added two goals for the Wildcats, who after losing to Notre Dame, Ohio State and Syracuse have responded with impressive defensive efforts in wins over UMass and North Carolina. The Tar Heels managed just 12 shots on goal.

Bridget Bianco went the distance in goal for Northwestern and recorded six saves. Freshman goalie Caylee Waters made her first career start for North Carolina after coming off the bench in relief of sophomore Megan Ward in a rotation for the first 11 games. Waters played all 60 minutes Monday and made three saves.

Alyssa Leonard scored three goals Monday in No. 8 Northwestern's 7-5 upset of No. 1 North Carolina.
(Cecil Copeland)

Northwestern jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead in the first five minutes and led 4-1 midway through the first half. Leonard had two goals and an assist for the Wildcats in their early flurry. Carly Reed broke the momentum temporarily with a free-position goal that made it 4-2 with 10:23 to go until the break before Leonard won a loose ball in front of the Tar Heel cage and scored with six seconds to go for a 5-2 Northwestern advantage at halftime.

The Wildcats scored first out of the locker room at halftime to take a 6-2 lead. The Tar Heels could never get closer than three goals the rest of the way. With a 7-4 lead, Northwestern held North Carolina scoreless for nearly 18 minutes until Sloane Serpe scored on a free position with 47 seconds remaining.

It maked Northwestern's 2014 debut at Lakeside Field. Winter weather forced the Wildcats' previously scheduled home games against Marquette and Notre Dame to be played at the nearby Lake Barrington Field House.

Northwestern got off to the start it envisioned when on its first possession, Leonard slipped free on the crease when her defender tripped to the ground and scored on a feed by Christy Turner for the game's first goal. Three minutes later, Craig made it 2-0 with a left-handed shot from the middle of the fan for her 18th goal of the season.

After Maggie Bill put the Tar Heels on the board, Leonard notched her second goal of the day when a shot by Craig was saved by Waters and recovered by Leonard for the quick rebound score at the 19:47 mark. Six minutes later, another lengthy Northwestern possession resulted in Leonard completing a hat trick off a pretty feed from fellow senior Kelly Rich.

Two key saves by Bianco, including one on a free position, allowed Northwestern to maintain a two-goal lead as time ticked down in the first half. With 10 seconds left in the frame, Rich attempted to feed Leonard on the crease, drawing Waters out of her cage. Leonard came away from the scrum with the loose ball and slipped it home for her third goal and a momentum swing in Northwestern's favor entering the break.

With the Wildcats later leading 6-3 in the second, Craig took her defender one-on-one and easily won that battle to score her second of the day and provide Northwestern its largest lead of day, 7-3.

North Carolina appeared poised to cut its deficit to two with 12:10 remaining when Friend raced uncontested in transition to the front of the Wildcats cage. But Bianco went to her knees to deny Friend's shot, returning possession to the Wildcats and allowing them to drain precious time off the clock.

The Tar Heels eventually were forced to come out of their packed-in defense to pressure the Wildcats defensively and were the beneficiaries of several Northwestern turnovers, but were kept out of the cage until a Serpe's free-position girl goal with 47 seconds remaining. It was too late to mount a comeback, however, as the Wildcats held on to improve to 11-4 all-time against North Carolina.

Northwestern's substantial advantage in possession time for the game came despite the two teams battling to an even 7-7 tie on draw controls, with the Tar Heels' Sarah Scott notching a game-high six.

North Carolina will return to action Saturday at home at Fetzer Field against second-ranked Maryland in a rematch of last year's NCAA championship game.

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