Northwestern coach Kelly Amonte Hiller freely admits that her team's defense is not normal for women's college lacrosse. It's just better - much better.
The No. 1 Wildcats pressured No. 11 Johns Hopkins into all sorts of trouble last night as they scored the final 10 goals en route to a 12-3 American Lacrosse Conference victory before about 600 at Homewood Field.
The Blue Jays led 3-2 after Lauren Schwarzmann's free-position goal, but the Wildcats shut them out for the final 46:09. Hopkins had been averaging 11.9 goals a game.
Soon after Schwarzmann's goal, the Wildcats increased their defensive pressure, doubling the ball all over the field and causing 12 of the Blue Jays' 18 turnovers. Lindsay Finocchiaro forced five of those turnovers.
"Before, we were just putting high pressure on Mary Key, but we decided it wasn't doing the job. And we needed to put it all over the field," said Wildcats defender Ashley Koester. "Our defense and our midfield are really athletic, and so we're just able to put a lot of pressure on the ball."
After scoring three goals on their first four shots, the Blue Jays struggled to find any openings on attack and were outshot, 20-13.
"They're always able to double the ball," said Johns Hopkins attacker Meagan Voight. "They do a great job getting the first slide there, and it's really hard to find the second slide. It's their shear aggression, and they're fast. They make teams throw the ball away."
Amonte Hiller, a two-time player of the year at Maryland, runs a lot of players in and out to keep them fresh enough to pressure the ball constantly. That has helped the Wildcats hold the opposition to 6.07 goals per game, the fewest in Division I.
"We don't play a normal defense," said Amonte Hiller, who built the Chicago-area team into a No. 1 program in just four years. "We don't do things conventionally. I try to be as innovative as possible as a coach. We just try to think outside the box and give the girls things that will challenge them and see how they respond."
So far this season, the Wildcats have responded perfectly. They are 15-0 and 4-0 in the ALC.
Last night, the Blue Jays (9-4, 3-2) didn't play badly on defense either, but the Wildcats made the most of Hopkins' mistakes, scoring five of their first seven goals on free-position shots.
"They're very athletic and fast, and they make it hard for you to get quality shots," said Blue Jays coach Janine Tucker.
While Northwestern certainly seems headed for the conference title and the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, each team has two conference games remaining. The Blue Jays play host to Notre Dame on Sunday.
"We need to bounce back Sunday," said Tucker. "Because, it just keeps going. We have Penn State and Georgetown, quality games still left on our schedule. The nice thing is to play a team like this makes you rise to the occasion, and we've got to do that Sunday against Notre Dame."
Northwestern 5 7 - 12
Johns Hopkins 3 0 - 3
Goals: N-Albrecht 4, Glassanos 3, Kjellman 2, Darmody, Finocchiaro, Josephs; JH-Janice, Key, L. Schwarzmann. Assists: N-Kjellman, Munday; JH-L. Schwarzmann. Saves: N-Gersuk 2; JH-Riddick 5.