The 4-2 lacrosse team is already off to a solid start in 2018, with their only losses coming to No. 14 Duke in a one-point game and No. 1 Stony Brook. As the season gets underway for No. 10 Northwestern, we took a look at where they’ll face their toughest challenges and biggest games.
Like last year, the ‘Cats play one of the toughest schedules in the country: The Big Ten schedule alone includes No. 4 Maryland, No. 15 Penn State and No. 19 Johns Hopkins, among other formidable opponents like Ohio State and Rutgers.
Unlike most sports, the lacrosse team’s non-conference schedule might be even harder – they’ve already played ranked opponents including Duke (now unranked), No. 14 USC, and No. 1 Stony Brook, and will face No. 6 North Carolina in the coming weeks.
Stony Brook was likely the toughest challenge of the season. The Seawolves are undefeated, and they prevailed again after beating Northwestern twice last season – once in the regular season and once to knock the ‘Cats out of the NCAA tournament. This year’s battle was, as per usual, a dogfight: The game was within two goals for much of the contest until Stony Brook ended on a 5-2 run to come up with the 15-10 win.
UNC is probably the next-scariest non-conference opponent: The Tar Heels, perennial contenders who lost in the quarterfinals of the tournament last year, are 3-1 this season. Their only loss came in double overtime against No. 3 James Madison, and they notched an impressive win over No. 5 Maryland, the defending champions. A win in this non-conference battle would go a long way for Northwestern’s resume come tournament time.
Looking ahead to Big Ten play, which starts against Michigan on March 23, the ‘Cats face most of their toughest opponents later in the season. Penn State is currently ranked No. 20, but they reached the tournament semifinals last season and will be looking for blood after Northwestern knocked them out of the Big Ten Tournament with a 12-11 upset last year. The Nittany Lions were part of two of NU’s most exciting games last year, also beating the ‘Cats in a 14-13 thriller during the regular season.
Finally, NU faces what may be its staunchest opponent in its last regular season game. Maryland might be ranked fifth right now, but the defending champs opened the season No. 1 for a reason. The Terps’ only loss is a 16-15 OT thriller to UNC, and they are known to dominate the ‘Cats: UMD beat NU twice last year, once by nine and once by eight. In 2016, Maryland beat them twice as well. Same thing in 2015. In 2014, the teams only faced off once – and you can probably guess the result.
This ‘Cats team is probably better than last year’s squad, but the schedule is equally scary. Coming out on top against some of these top-ranked opponents will prove to fans and opponents that this year’s team can really make noise come postseason play.