Feb. 9, 2014
ATLANTA -- Northwestern's 2014 season-opener will be hard to top in terms of excitement the rest of the year.
After trailing No. 8 Virginia at halftime and trading goals for most of the second half, Northwestern broke a 12-12 tie with 17 seconds left when senior Kate Macdonald converted an 8-meter goal to lift the fourth-ranked Wildcats to a 13-12 victory Sunday at Fifth Third Bank Stadium in Atlanta.
A crowd of 1,876 enthusiastic lacrosse fans turned out to the campus of Kennesaw State University to witness the early-season top-10 matchup.
The win was the eighth in a row for Northwestern against Virginia despite the Cavaliers entering halftime with a lead for a fourth consecutive time against the Wildcats.
Macdonald led all Wildcats scorers with a career-high three goals on the afternoon, with Alyssa Leonard and Kara Mupo joining sophomore Kaleigh Craig with two apiece.
Returning All-American goalkeeper Bridget Bianco deserves much of the credit for the Wildcats win, recording a career-best 14 saves to finish one shy of the Northwestern single-game record. Bianco's final save came on an excellent scoring opportunity for Virginia's Courtney Swan, keeping the score tied at 12 with 54 seconds left and setting up Northwestern's game-winning offensive possession.
Leonard also picked up where she left off last year in dominating the draw circle, notching 10 draw controls to raise her career total to 316 -- most among active Division I women's lacrosse players and fourth-most all-time.
Northwestern raced out of the gates in the first half, with sophomore Nancy Dunbar earning first-goal-of-the-year honors less than 90 seconds in when she cut down the right wing and beat goalkeeper Liz Colgan. Junior Blake McHugh and Macdonald then struck a minute apart as the Wildcats sped to a 3-0 advantage.
Virginia responded with a run of five straight scores over the next seven minute, a stretch that finally ended when senior Kat DeRonda put away an 8-meter attempt for her first goal of the season. With the Cavaliers later leading by a 7-5 margin, Leonard got on the scoresheet when she wrapped the crease and fired past Colgan at the 7:44 mark of the first half.
The Wildcats responded to their two-goal halftime deficit with another strong start to the half, notching the first four goals out of the locker room beginning with a Mupo free position score with 25:36 showing on the clock. Craig then sparked two goals in 31 seconds, first feeding Leonard around the cage and then going it alone for a goal that forced a Virginia timeout.
The Cavaliers regrouped and tallied three straight times before NU scored on a fast break out of a draw control, with Jess Carroll feeding Christy Turner in front of the cage for a transition goal that tied things at 11.
Virginia would take one final lead at the 8:50 mark on a free position goal by Maddy Keeshan, but Mupo answered in short order with an unassisted goal at the 7:47 mark, pulling NU level at 12. Several big saves down the stretch by Bianco kept Virginia from regaining a lead, setting up Macdonald's last-minute heroics.
The Wildcats won the ensuing draw control but promptly turned it over to give Virginia one final chance to tie the game, but the Cavaliers returned the favor with a turnover to seal the outcome.
Both teams overcame some opening-day sloppiness, with Northwestern turning the ball over 14 times in the second half and 20 in the game. NU defenders Kerri Harrington and Haydyn Anigian each had a team-best three ground balls on the day.
Northwestern will have another tough ACC test in its next outing when it travels to the home field of Duke University for a Feb. 22 tilt.
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