Sometimes even the best laid plans of mice and women's lacrosse teams go awry. In a game Northwestern absolutely needed to have against twelfth-ranked Penn State to make a leap in the Big Ten standings, the Nittany Lions (12-3, 4-0 B1G) kept the seventh-ranked Wildcats (10-5, 2-2 B1G) at arm's length for the majority of the afternoon and walked out of Evanston with a 14-10 victory.
Penn State had lost 18 straight games to Northwestern coming into today, and the team celebrated like it was 2003 as the clock wound down to zero. Northwestern Coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said she was disappointed in her team's focus this afternoon.
"We've got to come ready to play," Hiller said. "We've talked about it a million times – we didn't do it in Stony Brook, and we focused on it at Notre Dame, but this team, for some reason, just thinks it's going to happen for them. You have to come to play every time you step on the field. Maybe at some point they'll learn that lesson."
Penn State jumped out to an early 3-1 lead, but the 'Cats responded with two goals of their own, tying the game at 3 with 20:42 left in the first half. Then the Nittany Lions really bared their claws, pouncing on all of Northwestern's mistakes (including five first half turnovers) and going on a 5-0 extended run to grab an 8-3 lead with 11:20 left in the first half.
A unassisted goal from Kaleigh Craig with 9:08 left in the first half briefly stemmed the tide for the 'Cats, cutting the lead to 8-4. But Penn State refused to let its guard down, scoring the final two goals of the half to take a commanding 10-4 lead to intermission.
In a fashion that's almost become the norm, Northwestern came out firing on all cylinders in the second half, scoring four straight (two from Craig) to cut Penn State's lead to 10-8 in the first five minutes of the second half. Again, the Nittany Lions fought back, extending their lead to 14-8 just past the midway point in the second half with four unanswered goals of their own to all but put the game away.
"We were having a tough time stopping their offense, and we came up with some draw controls that gave us some momentum, but we couldn't finish it," Hiller said. "We had an opportunity, but you have to step up if you want to be a winner, and we weren't a winner today."
Northwestern responded with a couple of late goals but it was too little too late for the 'Cats, who fell 14-10.
Hiller said the onus is on all of the players on the team, now losers of two of its last three games, to turn their season around.
"It has to come from them," Hiller said. "They have to decide what they want. It can't just be a few kids [stepping up], it's got to be everyone. Until that happens where everyone steps up, stuff like this is going to happen."
The 'Cats will wrap up their regular season on Saturday with a conference game at home against the 13th-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes. It will be Senior Day at Lakeside Field, and the opening draw is scheduled for 2 p.m.
"It's a big game, Ohio State always plays us tight," Hiller said. "We need to come ready to fight and play and want to do our best for this program and this university."