March 25, 2009

Nielsen Closes in on NCAA Assists Record

by Daniel Malloy | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Northwestern's Hannah Nielsen is five assists shy of eclipsing Jen Adams' NCAA career record heading into Wednesday's game at UMass.
© Stephen J. Carrera

Hannah Nielsen has been following her march to history, sort of.

The Northwestern senior attacker is five assists short of the NCAA career record, but she said she has to "keep being reminded" of how close she's getting.

"I'm not really trying to focus on that," she said. "It would be nice [to get the record], but I think it would be good for the team."

Yeah, the team's doing just fine, too. In fact, it's about as good a bet for Nielsen to reach the record 179 assists -- it could happen as soon as Wednesday, when the Wildcats face Massachusetts -- as it is for Northwestern to claim its fifth consecutive NCAA championship.

The Wildcats are beating teams by more than 13 goals per game, including Sunday's 19-8 thrashing of No. 8 Syracuse, which was a final four team just last year. In that game, Nielsen showed that she's more than just a distributor, tossing in a career-high seven goals to go along with two assists.

The Adelaide, Australia, native leads Division I in assists and points, and could add a second Tewaaraton Award to her trophy case once this season is over.

Nielsen was quick to credit the finishers around her -- starting with the since-graduated Kristen Kjellman, herself a two-time Tewaaraton winner -- as the prime reason for her prolific assist-making, but her coach said the record is a credit to Nielsen first and foremost.

"It speaks to the hard work she puts in, the confidence that she has," said Northwestern head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller. "She's such a great unselfish player. We're so lucky to have her on our team."

Nielsen grew into her role, as Hiller put it, "as a quarterback on offense," her sophomore season after spending a year in the midfield. The Wildcats lost much of their attack to graduation, so Hiller plugged in Nielsen and Hillary Bowen -- who owns the team lead and is second nationally with 40 goals this year -- behind the net and let them run the show.

Hiller said Nielsen's attitude off the field is reflected in her play.

"She's pretty laid back, and she's very mature, and she's a great person all around, very unselfish," Hiller said. "It takes a lot to live that far away from friends and family, and there's a certain sense of maturity that goes with that."

Nielsen said she's eager to spend some time back in Australia, but plans on remaining stateside after she finishes her degree in human development and psychological services in the fall. Nielsen said she wants to continue in the game as a coach.

But Nielsen still has some on-field business to take care of before she moves to the sidelines.

If Nielsen reaches the assist record, she would supplant Maryland great and fellow Aussie Jen Adams, who will play with Nielsen on the Australian national team in the World Cup in June.

Nielsen said growing up she followed those great Terrapins teams that won seven national championships in a row. To be a part of a comparable dynasty, she said, is much more important than any individual honor.

"When I first came in, I never dreamed we'd be three-for-three and going for a fourth," Nielsen said. "It's unbelievable to think about."

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