March 12, 2013

Sheehan: Despite Wildcats' Team Approach, Fitzgerald is Go-To Player

by Sheehan Stanwick Burch |

Erin Fitzgerald scored five goals for the third straight game on Monday in Northwestern's 15-12 win at Navy.

It is amazing to finally watch a lacrosse game and feel the warm sun on your face. More importantly, it's nice to finally watch a lacrosse game without seeing snow banks surrounding the field. Warm weather must mean one thing: the 2013 lacrosse season is about to heat up too.

I had the pleasure of calling the Northwestern-Navy game in Annapolis, Md., on Monday afternoon. Two coaching legends squared off against each other. Navy's Cindy Timchal won eight national championships at Maryland and Kelly Amonte Hiller has won seven of the last eight at Northwestern. The amount of success they both have had is unreal. The impact these pair of National Lacrosse Hall of Famers have had on the growth of the sport over the years has been immeasurable. Heading into this game, Navy was the clear underdog. Though Navy has been a force in the Patriot League, it is still looking to be a force in the Top 20.

Navy's Aimee Gennaro scored the first two goals of the game. She her teammates were not intimidated by the defending national champs, and I was very impressed with the composure they showed. It was a fun game as a spectator to watch; fast-paced with a lot of goals and some excellent goalie and defensive play. Jasmine DePompeo put up an All-American performance, putting up eight points and shooting lights out once again for Navy. DePompeo scored on five of her six shots, and has an insane 79 percent shooting percentage on the season. Navy battled Northwestern until the final minutes, falling 15-12.

On our CBS Sports Network conference call this week, Amonte Hiller said that the Wildcats do not have a "go-to person" on their attack. They are trying to have a different approach this year, "more of a team approach," Amonte Hiller said, with a lot of different threats. Northwestern showed that it does have many threats, as the first six goals against Navy were scored by six different players.

Despite this "change" in philosophy, however, Northwestern has always had that standout attacker that you knew could will the Wildcats to victory: Kristin Kjellman, Hannah Nielsen, Katrina Dowd and Shannon Smith, to name a few. Senior Erin Fitzgerald has been primed to take on that role for Northwestern, scoring 131 goals over the last three seasons. With her third straight five-goal performance this year, Fitzgerald seems to be easing into the go-to player role nicely.

Although the score was knotted up several times during the game, Northwestern went on a five-goal scoring tear in the second half and Navy was not able to make up the deficit. The bright spot? Navy's 12 goals are the most scored on Northwestern so far this season.

As a side note, I was disappointed with the amount of cross-checks in this game and, quite honestly, most games that I watch. Just for reference, here is the language taken directly out of the rulebook:

Illegal Contact: Initiating crosse-to-body, or body-to-crosse contact.

Cross-Check: Using the shaft of the crosse to hit, push or displace an opponent. This includes, but is not limited to, thrusting, jabbing, pushing or displacing any part of an opponent's body.

Illegal Use of the Crosse: Using the crosse in a dangerous and/or intimidating manner, for example:

Lowering the head of the crosse below shoulder level and initiating crosse-to-body contact

Unfortunately, cross-checks seem to be the norm when playing defense and they appear to me to be rarely called. It seems that the penalty for a cross-check (the defender going 4 meters behind) is not deterring players from committing the foul. Something needs to change. Referees need to call the cross-check fouls and card the players when needed. The players, and coaches, will be forced to adjust. Let's clean this game up.

Games to watch

No. 10 Georgetown (4-1) at No. 12 Johns Hopkins (4-1), 7 p.m. Wednesday

Hopkins leading scorer Taylor D'Amore was held without a shot in the 18-8 loss to Northwestern on Saturday. D'Amore did chip in two assists, but the Blue Jays need her scoring power if they want to win games. Georgetown needs to make adjustments after the loss to Duke. The Hoys shot 10-for-33, 1-fo- 7 from the 8-meter and had only three saves. Many of the same problems that plagued the Hoyas last year. Johns Hopkins gets the edge with the home-field advantage.

No. 13 Dartmouth (4-1) at No. 6 Duke (6-1), Noon Sunday

Dartmouth likes to fly under the radar in the beginning of the season. I see this game being a defensive battle. Dartmouth goalkeeper Kristen Giovanniello's numbers are down this year. Her save percentage dropped from 48 percent over the last two seasons to 38 percent this year but she is still one of the best in her position. Duke has a hot goalkeeper of its own. Freshman Kelsey Duryea had 11 saves in the Blue Devils' win over Georgetown.

CBS Sports Network women's lacrosse analyst and 2001 Tewaaraton Award finalist Sheehan Stanwick Burch will be providing a column for every Tuesday throughout the Division I women's college season. Follow Sheehan on Twitter @StanwickBurch.

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