With seven national championship titles, the No. 13 Northwestern women’s lacrosse team instills fear in the minds of its opponents. The team emphasizes strength and aggression, as evidenced by its high-pressure defense on all thirds of the field.
By sending a double team toward the ball handler, the Wildcats hope to fluster their opponents into making a mistake. Though an attacker is left unmarked, the double typically makes it extremely difficult for the ball handler to drive or get off a clean pass. In the first half of play against Michigan on Thursday night, Northwestern’s plan worked seamlessly.
Forty minutes into the game, Michigan junior attacker Tess Korten was stuck in one of the double teams. Searching for the open player, Korten spotted junior attacker Jess Angerman, who was wide open at the left of the crease. Korten passed to Angerman, who then rounded the crease, faked the goalie and hit twine, resulting in Michigan’s first score of the one-sided match.
Unfortunately for the Wolverines, they still had 16 goals left to tie the game.
Michigan coach Jennifer Ulehla predicted Northwestern’s pressure from the start. Coming off of two consecutive losses, the Wildcats were looking for redemption, and they earned it with an 15-0 lead by halftime.
“We have to weather the storm in the beginning of this game because they’re going to come out on fire,” Uhlela said to the team before the game. “It’s going to be high pressure, and we’ve got to be able to handle that and think clearly and work through it.”
Based on the 20-4 final score, it’s clear the warning didn’t bode well for the Wolverines.
“Well, the storm happened, and we obviously didn’t work through it,” Ulehla said.
Entering halftime without a single goal, Michigan pointed to its lack of aggression. The effort was there, but the execution was not.
“We had a mentality of ‘We need to get to goal,’ ” Angerman said. “We didn’t really have anything to lose. It all came down to possession time and being able to capitalize on our opportunities.”
There wasn’t much time to capitalize on opportunities, though, as Northwestern dominated the draw control, 19-6. Known for their draw specialists, the Wildcats know where the ball is going to be before the whistle is blown — something Michigan aspires to develop and something it just couldn’t beat.
“It’s the consistent execution of where the ball’s going,” Ulehla said. “They’re able to put (the ball) in a position that’s consistent, they know it’s going there and they’re able to run onto it.”
Such prowess on the draw allowed the Wildcats to keep possession of the ball in Michigan’s defensive third of the field for the majority of the game.
The Wolverines, who have run successful backer and man defenses in their short, three-season history, had extreme difficulty in stopping Northwestern’s attack. It wasn’t until halftime that Michigan began to adjust.
“It took a while to figure out a defense that was going to work,” Ulehla said. “By the time we did, it was 15-0.”
Playing Northwestern twice last year, Michigan lost 17-8 in its first showing. After preparing and recharging for the Big Ten quarterfinal, the Wolverines lost just 13-9. With the potential of seeing the Wildcats again in the Big Ten Tournament this season, Michigan may have a chance to exact revenge.
“It’s a matter of continuing to learn from our experiences. We should be able to come out and compete the first time we play them. It shouldn’t have to take twice,” Ulehla said. “But again, the program is growing and this is something that we will take a look at on film and really talk about, and we’ll get them back on track and ready for our next game.
“If we see Northwestern again, I guarantee it’ll be a different outcome.”