Monday night, Northwestern hosts arguably its biggest game of the season, taking on No. 1 North Carolina inside Ryan Fieldhouse.
The Wildcats (4-2) are coming off a comeback win against Stanford last Sunday. NU allowed seven goals in nine minutes to fall into a 7-2 deficit midway through the first half.
“I personally think it’s just a mentality,” coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said of the early deficit. “Being able to handle pressure, staying calm and continuing to be able to play our game — that’s a mentality.”
The Cats demonstrated a strong mentality and rebounded, tying the game by halftime en route to winning 25-18.
Not only did the win boost NU’s momentum heading into Monday’s clash against the Tar Heels (6-0, 2-0 ACC), the win was the 300th of Amonte Hiller’s storied coaching career, making her one of eight active coaches to pass the threshold. But Amonte Hiller downplayed the achievement.
“[Coaching] is more about the relationships and experiences I’ve had,” she said. “I’m really focused on our season right now, and that’s where my head is.”
As the team prepares for the matchup against the Tar Heels, the status of star sophomore attacker Izzy Scane is uncertain. Scane left during the second half after scoring five goals against Stanford. Amonte Hiller said she did not know if Scane would be available for the game Monday.
Whether Scane plays or not, the Cats have to play their best lacrosse of the season Monday to grab a win. One player NU will need goals from is junior attacker Lauren Gilbert. Gilbert, who notched a career-high six goals against the Cardinal, pushed her goals tally this season to 22 through six games, a marked increase from the 52 goals she scored in 21 games last season.
Amonte Hiller said Gilbert’s confidence is the reason for the attacker’s improvement.
“Last year she played a lot and I think she gained confidence,” Amonte Hiller said. “She just came into the year with that confidence knowing that she can compete with anyone.”
The Cats only had 10 turnovers against Stanford, the team’s lowest mark since the season opener against Detroit Mercy. To win Monday, much less have a deep run in the NCAA tournament, NU will have to take care of the ball.
“We focused on [turnovers] a lot in the week leading up to Stanford,” she said. “Tightening up our transition and getting people in the right spots. We need to continue that.”
North Carolina is a juggernaut, and has handled three ranked teams already this season, with the Tar Heels securing a statement 19-6 win against then-No. 3 Maryland on Feb. 22.
However, the Tar Heels are certainly beatable, as they faced adversity last weekend against No. 12 Virginia. The Cavaliers led 7-6 at halftime, and were leading 10-9 with just under 20 minutes remaining, but fell 18-12. Despite the upcoming showdown, Amonte Hiller said this week’s practices have been no different than any other.
“We’re just trying to take it day by day,” Amonte Hiller said, “[To] continue to improve on ourselves, and that’s mentally and physically.”
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