January 30, 2013

#LMranks: No. 3 Northwestern Wildcats (Women)

by Clare Lochary | LaxMagazine.com | Team Page/Schedule

"You can't even match up with one or two players against her. You actually need a system to stop her on attack," one rival D-I coach said of Northwestern midfielder Taylor Thornton.
© John Konstantaras

Lacrosse Magazine's preseason NCAA Division I Top 20 countdown continues today and concludes Thursday with profiles of the second- and first-ranked teams in D-I men and women.

Check back next week for more preseason #LMranks extra content. And for more on all the teams in our countdown, visit LaxMagazine.com/LMranks. Follow @LacrosseMag on Twitter and Tweet using the hashtag #LMranks.

Power Ratings

Offense: 3*
Defense: 4
Goalkeeping: 4
Draw Control: 5
* Out of 5

Top Returner

M Taylor Thornton (Sr.)
The Tewaaraton Award finalist stepped up her offense in 2012 while securing 71 draw controls and 58 ground balls, proving she's equally as dangerous on both sides of the ball. Look for that trend to continue as Northwestern looks to generate more goals from the midfield this year.


M Jess Carroll (So.)
Carroll saw significant minutes in the NCAA tournament and became valuable in the transition game. "She's the fastest player on the team," Northwestern coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. "We need to get her on the field." She started on Sunday against Team USA at Champion Challenge.

What's New?

The Wildcats will open their season with a two-game road trip in Los Angeles, playing UMass at Southern California's home field on Feb. 8, and then playing the Trojans in their first-ever game Feb. 9 at LA Memorial Coliseum. Both Minutewomen coach Angela McMahon and Trojan coach Lindsey Munday are former Wildcat players and assistants.

What's Not?

Erin Fitzgerald has been the No. 2 goal scorer on the team for two years running, quietly piling up points behind 2011 Tewaaraton Award winner Shannon Smith. The senior attacker had 56 goals in 2012, and 2013 may be the time for her to move into the No. 1 spot. Kara Mupo's role is also definitely different this season. She inherits Smith's spot feeding behind the cage. The junior was the third-leading scorer for Northwestern last year with 33 goals and six assists.

2012 Recap

Record: 21-2 (4-1 ALC)

In a Nutshell: Northwestern met its match in ALC foe Florida, which beat the Wildcats at home during the regular season and again in the conference championship game. Northwestern refocused for the NCAA tournament and ground out four straight wins, including an 8-6 victory over Syracuse to take the title.

High Point: The Wildcats won their seventh national championship in eight years, further cementing their reputation as the best program in the nation.

Low Point: Northwestern didn't just lose the ALC championship — it got crushed, 14-7. It was the Wildcats' worst lost since 2003 and the first time any team had defeated Northwestern twice in a season during the Amonte Hiller era.

#LMranks WD1 Preseason Countdown

No. 20 Princeton
No. 19 Boston College
No. 18 Stony Brook
No. 17 UMass
No. 16 Towson
No. 15 Cornell
No. 14 Georgetown
No. 13 Ohio State
No. 12 Penn
No. 11 Dartmouth
No. 10 Notre Dame
No. 9 Penn State
No. 8 Virginia
No. 7 Duke
No. 6 Loyola
Monday: No. 5 North Carolina
Tuesday: No. 4 Maryland
Wednesday: No. 3
Thursday: No. 2 and No. 1

More: Countdown schedule | MD1 | MD2 | WD2 | MD3 | WD3 | JuCo | MCLA | WCLA

2013 Preview

Best Case: With an experienced defense and midfield, the Wildcats regain the ALC crown and win their third straight NCAA championship.

Worst Case: The offense never finds a Smith-like feeder and Northwestern struggles to match high-octane teams like Florida and Syracuse. The Wildcats stumble in the tournament, and miss the final four for the first time since 2004.

Inside Scoop

Coach Kelly Amonte Hiller's comments on...

GK Bridget Bianco (So.)
"She's probably a little bit more like Morgan Lathrop than Brianne LoManto. She's very athletic, does some different things, takes some chances. She matured quite a bit in the fall. We're looking for her to continue to improve and if she does that, she'll do some nice things."

M Alyssa Leonard (Jr.)
"Alyssa has done a really nice job this fall, building on the momentum from last season. She steps up on draws and plays a bigger role across the board. Taylor [Thornton] and Gabby [Flibotte] are best friends, and Alyssa is very close with them as well. It's a really cohesive unit."

D Kerri Harrington (Jr.)
"She's a very good team defender as well as a good faceguard and I think she's got a lot of confidence from her participation in the last couple of years. We're definitely looking to her to give us more."

Rival Coaches Say

"I think that although they're young and they lost a lot, I think that they're still well-coached, they're still athletic. They should be once again in the running at the end of the season... They have Alyssa Leonard to control the draw, which will be huge for them, but they'll have a new goalie. They graduated such a huge core group of kids in Shannon Smith, Jess Russo, [Biranne] LoManto the goalie, [and Lacey] Vigmostad—who I think was a very underrated player for them for the last four years. But that core group of kids who have played so much on the field for them I think is going to be a tough group to replace..

"Whether they are young or not young, it never really seems to matter. They are well-coached. They are always prepared for the big games, and they are a disciplined team. It doesn't really matter, plugging in new players or having big players return, they are always going to be in contention for a national championship... They're always good. The hard thing about playing Northwestern is they don't let you relax on attack...

"Taylor Thornton will continue to be the best player in the country. You can't even match up with one or two players against her. You actually need a system to stop her on attack. Just on the circle alone, it's hard to stop her. She's turning out to be a better play maker on the attacking end and a finisher. With Taylor, she just is changing the game too, having her end-to-end abilities to take control of the game. In the past, playing with Jen Adams, Jen was able to dominate one end of the field But Taylor's X factor was on the draw and playing close D on the team's leading scorer. And now she's drawing the other team's best defender. Usually it's one or two of those three things that makes a great player. Taylor has all three. Mupo's always been a great attacker. They'll always reload. But Taylor's a gamebreaker-type player."

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