March 5, 2014
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - The game site is unexpected but the ferocity will not be when No. 13/10 Notre Dame women's lacrosse heads to the Lake Barrington Field House in Lake Barrington, Ill. to face rival No. 4 Northwestern at 9:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday.
Evanston has been no stranger to the extended winter that has descended upon the U.S. in 2013-14 and the frosty conditions have been deemed unsuitable for the Wildcats' Lakeside Field, thus the relocation of the game to the closest available indoor facility and the change in time.
Less than two hours apart, elite academic institutions and long-standing opponents in many sports, the rivalry that has developed between Notre Dame and Northwestern is a natural one. The Irish started their program in 1997 and the Wildcats relaunched in 2002 and have remained two of the flagship programs in one of the fastest growing regions for one of the country's fastest growing sports.
The Irish claimed an 11-3 win in Evanston in 2002 but the 15-game series has tilted heavily towards the Wildcats since while Northwestern claimed seven of the eight NCAA championships from 2005-12. On six occasions, the Irish have found themselves in Evanston for NCAA regional contests, three of them facing Northwestern. The familiarity with each other runs deep.
Last year's game at Notre Dame was tight. Lauren Sullivan scored her fourth goal of the day for the Irish with 11:30 to play in the game to make the score 10-8 in favor of Northwestern but neither team would score again and the Wildcats headed back west with a two-goal victory. Notre Dame outshot Northwestern 23-18 in a game that should give the Irish confidence heading into Wednesday night's showdown.
The two teams play similar fast, attacking and athletic brands of the game with intelligent student-athletes so the coaching staffs compete on the recruiting trail as well as the lacrosse field.
Competing is one thing that the Wildcats (3-0) have not done much of this spring, having played only three games, winning them all. Northwestern downed a pair of Notre Dame's ACC rivals, beating No. 8 Virginia, 13-12, in Atlanta and No. 5 Duke, 12-11, in Durham. Northwestern has not played in over a week, last competing on Feb. 25 when the Wildcats took down Marquette 20-5 at the Lake Barrington Field House in the team's "home" opener.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame (3-2) plays its third game in seven days in three different states after falling at No. 1 North Carolina on Thursday night in Chapel Hill and downing Virginia Tech on Sunday afternoon in Blacksburg for its first ACC victory. The Irish will look to build upon a strong all-around team effort in that win over the Hokies, one which saw three different Irish players net a hat trick (Cortney Fortunato, Caitlin Gargan and Rachel Sexton), Margaret Smith narrowly miss a school record with three draw controls, and goalkeepers Allie Murray and Liz O'Sullivan combine to make nine saves. A total of 14 different Notre Dame players battled to grab a ground ball at Virginia Tech.
One key stat to watch on Wednesday night will be draw controls. Northwestern is fourth in the nation at 18.00 per game and is led by Alyssa Leonard who has 32 in three games to rank second nationally at 10.67 per game. The Irish have been strong here too and rank 16th nationally at 14.80 per game keyed by Barbara Sullivan (26th individually) and Smith. The additional possessions will prove critical to the team that eventually emerges victorious.