In yet another game the 'Cats needed to win, ninth-ranked Northwestern (11-5, 3-2) rode a first half 6-0 surge and an 8-0 second half surge to an easy 16-6 Senior Day win over 20th-ranked Ohio State (11-6, 2-3) at Lakeside Field. The victory secured a third place finish in the Big Ten.
Coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said she thought the practices leading up to Saturday's game made the difference and will serve the 'Cats well as they move into the postseason.
"I think what we showed today was the benefit of what we've gone through," Hiller said. "It was a good step forward. It definitely wasn't perfect, but it's hopefully a good momentum builder into the tournament."
The 'Cats dominated essentially every facet of the game, showing marked improvement from the last three games, when they lost twice in disappointing performances against Stony Brook and Penn State. Senior goalkeeper Bridget Bianco made 10 saves, and two 'Cats pulled off hat tricks (senior attacker Kara Mupo and sophomore midfielder Sheila Nesselbush).
Freshman attacker Selena Lasota set the tone early with an unassisted goal 1:30 into the game, and the 'Cats never looked back. After Ohio State answered Lasota's goal 42 seconds later, NU scored six unanswered goals over the remaining 25 minutes of the first half to grab a commanding 7-1 lead. The Buckeyes made a brief attempt at a comeback, scoring in the waning minutes of the first half and in the opening minute of the second half to make it 7-3, but that was as close as they could cut it.
Mupo slung one in on an eight-meter free position spot and Nesselbush finished off her hat trick to put NU up six again at 9-3. The 'Cats were far from finished, however. Northwestern tacked on six more unanswered goals, and Mupo finished off her Senior Day hat trick midway through the half to help NU waltz to a 16-6 victory.
It's been anything but easy this season, but Hiller said that after her team's 16-game roller coaster ride, the 'Cats are getting hot at the right time, and she's feeling confident.