May 14, 2009

Morgan Lathrop on Call for Northwestern

by Justin Feil | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Seldom-needed goalkeeper Morgan Lathrop has proven apt in postseason play with clutch saves in her four years at Northwestern.

© Stephen J. Carrera

Morgan Lathrop once made 27 saves as a junior at The Hackley School.

Those days are long forgotten, and it might seem Lathrop is as well.

With the top scoring offense and scoring margin in the country, it would be easy to forget the contributions of Northwestern's senior goalie. Ten times this season, exactly half of the season, she has had to make only four saves or fewer. Lathrop isn't complaining about the lack of attention.

"I'm in a position that you only want to be used when necessary," she said.

Opponents, including Saturday's NCAA tournament quarterfinal foe Princeton, know better than to overlook Lathrop, a first-team All-American as a sophomore. She has proved herself every year in a four-year run as starter.

"She always seems to come up big when we need her," said Northwestern head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller, whose 20-0 team is looking for a fifth straight national championship. "She's been crucial all along. We're looking for her to play well against Princeton on Saturday. It's going to be a key for us."

The top-seeded Wildcats are counting on Lathrop again when they host Princeton at 1 p.m. Saturday at Lakeside Field. Northwestern also defeated the Tigers, 18-11, in last year's quarterfinals.

"Honestly, if I don't have a really active game, that's a good thing," said Lathrop, who made seven saves in last year's win over Princeton. "It means we have possession. I have no problem sitting back and watching my team be successful."

But look at any close game in the last four seasons, and Lathrop has a critical play. In the Wildcats' biggest regular-season challenge this year, it was Lathrop who came up with a turnover with five minutes left to get the ball back to the offense for the game-winner three minutes later in an 11-10 win at Virginia on April 19. And that was a game in which she struggled at times.

In each of the past three postseasons, Lathrop has produced. Three saves stand out for her from the Wildcats' last three national title runs.

As a freshman, her save in the second overtime preserved Northwestern's 11-10 semifinal win over top-seeded Duke. She came up big in her sophomore year against Virginia in the 15-13 national title win.

"They were on a huge run, and I ended up making a save with five minutes left and chasing down the rebound," Lathrop said. "I like to think of that one when I'm not playing my best game. If you can come up with the big save at the end, no one will remember if you had a tough game."

In last year's title game, Lathrop stopped a free position attempt against Penn with one second left before halftime. The Wildcats kept a three-goal edge and the momentum as they pulled away in the second half.

Said Amonte Hiller: "One big save, especially if the team has a good offense, can change a game."

Lathrop doesn't get as many chances as some goalies. When she debuted as a starter in the second game of her freshman year, she made 15 saves. She hasn't had to make that many saves since. This year, she made a season-high 11 saves against North Carolina on March 2.

Opponents average less than 18 shots per game. Lathrop saved just three shots in 48 minutes in the win over Massachusetts to open the NCAA tournament.

"It's a lot easier to get in a rhythm when you have 20 shots on you," Lathrop said. "You have to have the attitude you have to be ready at every moment. You can't take a break, even when we have the ball on offense. You have to stay focused for the full 60 minutes. You have to be ready for anything."

Lathrop is second in the country in goals allowed per game at 6.09. More telling is her .507 save percentage that ranks ninth in the country.

"We play a pretty aggressive style," Amonte Hiller said, "so a lot of times she gets shots that are point blank."

Even if Lathrop doesn't see much action in games, she gets plenty of work in practice when the nation's top-scoring offense takes aim.

"She's seen a lot of shots from some of the best shooters," Amonte Hiller said. "We shoot a lot. I think she gets everything she needs in practice to be prepared."

It has paid off. This year Lathrop passed Ashley Gersuk, whom she succeeded between the pipes, as Northwestern's all-time savae leader. Lathrop will add to her 532 total Saturday.

"If I have to be really active, it means it's a closer game," Lathrop said. "I really have no problem being inactive."

History shows, however, that she will be called on if the Wildcats are to win another crown.

Morgan Lathrop is ready for her final shot at perfection.

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