After a season of looking up at Maryland, the Wildcats got caught from behind on Friday night.
In the Big Ten Tournament semifinals on Friday night in Ann Arbor, Northwestern lacrosse (13-5) fell to the Penn State Nittany Lions (10-8) by a score of 21-6. Since losing to No. 19 Duke all the way back on February 18, the Wildcats had not lost to any team outside the top 5, only falling to No. 1 Stony Brook, No. 3 Maryland and No. 4 North Carolina, while rattling off wins over ranked opponents in USC, Syracuse, Johns Hopkins, Penn, Notre Dame and the Nittany Lions themselves. Their consistency has been one of the most impressive qualities of the team, which made Friday’s loss so surprising.
Both teams started out hot offensively in an extremely fast-paced first half. Shelby Fredericks won the opening draw control and fed fellow senior Sheila Nesselbush for a quick goal that put the Wildcats on top, just 13 seconds into the contest. Nesselbush’s little shimmy after scoring revealed a confidence that seemed to bode well for Northwestern.
However, on the one-year anniversary of losing to Northwestern in last year’s semifinal, Penn State quickly made it known that they meant business. Over the next four minutes, the Nittany Lions rattled off three goals, including the latter two from the star duo of Katie O’Donnell and Maria Auth; they would not trail for the rest of the game. By the 20-minute mark in the first half, six more goals would be scored to knot the score at five, most notable among them Selena Lasota’s backhand beauty.
In the mayhem, Fredericks became the all-time leader in draw controls in Northwestern's history.
PSU then solidified their lead for the remainder of the game with an 8-1 run. Penn State had a balanced scoring attack with seven players recording goals and four recording assists. The Wildcats scored two more to trim the deficit to 13-8 at halftime, but the half belonged to Penn State.
🚨🚨GOAL🚨🚨 What a find by Daggett to see Auth cutting through the 8-meter and Penn State leads 8-5 at the 14:34 mark of the first half! SJ sideline count - 1 worm, 1 homerun. #WeAre#PSUWLAXpic.twitter.com/hnl5bIG8an— Penn State Women’s Lacrosse (@PennStateWLAX) May 5, 2018
The slower-paced nature of the second half did not work in Northwestern’s favor. After three goals in rapid succession from Holly Korn, Nesselbush and Lasota brought the contest to a manageable 15-11 with 19:13 left – the Wildcats failed to score for six minutes as Penn State expanded its lead. Auth’s goal to extend Penn State’s lead to six with under six minutes left to go put the game essentially out of reach. The Wildcats battled until the bitter end of the 21-16 loss.
All is not lost. Northwestern is a lock to return to the NCAA Tournament with an at-large bid (the official announcement is Sunday night). Once there, anything can happen – especially with an explosive roster that should have a chip on their shoulder.
Maryland defeated Penn State on Sunday afternoon to claim their third straight Big Ten championship.