The No. 12 Massachusetts women’s lacrosse team had its best performance in five seasons against Northwestern on Saturday night in a 17-7 loss.
In the second-ever women’s lacrosse night game at McGuirk Alumni Stadium, the Minutewomen held No. 2 Northwestern to its fewest goal total in six meetings between the two squads since 2007. UMass (7-2) also scored more goals than it had in each of those meetings.
The Wildcats (8-0) are winners of five of the last six national championships, which made the result an encouraging sign for the Minutewomen, despite the final score.
“As a senior, this is a very special experience for me, because this is the last time I may get to play this team,” said defender Nazy Kerr. “The score doesn’t accurately reflect how far we’ve come and how many strides we’ve made and how well we were [able to play] on defense today.”
Northwestern dominated possession throughout the game, beginning with draw controls, of which they took 24 of 26. This dominance allowed the Wildcats to run out to an early lead and reel off 33 shots to the Minutewomen’s 18.
“Considering how much time they had the ball for and how much ball possession they had, I think we did a great job defensively of making some really good holds and actually getting some turnovers, as well,” said UMass coach Angela McMahon.
“They just came out quick and I think we were a little timid at first,” said junior Minutewomen goaltender Katie Florence. “We had a little bit of a slow start, and I think that hurt us.”
Florence, who made eight saves in over 51 minutes, was tested early, as Northwestern won the opening draw control and scored 18 seconds later. It was the first of five consecutive goals the Wildcats would score before five minutes of clock expired, three of them coming from Erin Fitzgerald, who finished with five goals.
Junior Jesse O’Donnell ended the Wildcat run with a free position shot at 13:56, her first of two goals, making the score 5-1. Northwestern’s Fitzgerald responded 43 seconds later with her fourth goal of the game, before back-to-back goals by UMass’ Katie Ferris and Danielle Pelletier narrowed the score to 6-3 with 5:59 to play in the first half.
Ali Cassera scored with 5:22 left in the half, beginning a 7-0 Wildcat run that extended into the second half.
UMass missed an opportunity to score before the half when Dayna Defliese’s shot went wide after moving the ball for over a minute in the attacking zone. Lacey Vigmostad caused a Danielle Pelletier turnover with 36 seconds left to give the Wildcats possession. Then, a Kelsey Palmer foul led to a free position goal by Amanda Macaluso with 13 seconds remaining in the first half.
Shannon Smith, Northwestern’s leading scorer and the nation’s leader in points per game (6.86), was held without a goal in the first half, but she contributed with three assists. Instead, with the second-leading offense in the nation (16.71 points per game), the Wildcats showed their depth with 10 different point-scorers on the night and six tacking on multiple points.
“At all times, they have seven people on attack who can score, and tonight it was Erin Fitzgerald who stepped up big time,” McMahon said. “They’re all great shooters; they have a great eye for the goal. We tried to limit Shannon [Smith], but any one of them can step up and have a big game, which a few of them did.”
Taylor Thornton’s goal at the 27:25 mark in the second half continued the Northwestern scoring streak, which ended four goals later with another Amanda Macaluso (three goals) tally at 24:37.
Freshman Tanner Guarino got on the board for the Minutwomen with 21:55 remaining, taking a Ferris feed from inside the arc and putting a shot past Brianne LoManto, who finished with six saves. Following a Northwestern turnover, Haley Smith navigated through the Wildcat defense on the break and fired a shot past LoManto to cut the score to 13-5 with 19:30 left.
Northwestern’s Smith put the game out of reach late in the second half with two unassisted goals to make the score 16-6. The two teams then traded goals in the final two minutes, finalizing the score at 17-7.
With the loss, the Minutewomen concluded their non-conference schedule with two blemishes, the other coming against No. 15 Albany on March 19. Despite the loss, McMahon was pleased with her team’s effort and believes there was no better time to play the Wildcats than right before their Atlantic 10 schedule begins.
“I think it was a great test for us and it was a great time to play them,” McMahon said. “I think it showed what we’re capable of on defense, and now we set the bar for us defensively in terms of what we expect to see out of the team in the A-10 Tournament.”
UMass next hosts Temple on Friday at McGuirk Alumni Stadium at 3 p.m.
Dan Gigliotti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.