Feb. 14, 2011
EVANSTON, Ill. -- For the first time in half a decade, the dawn of a new lacrosse season has a different feel for head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller and her Wildcats. Northwestern heads into the 2011 season as underdogs, and it is a role the team has seemed to latch onto in the early going.
"We're not heading into the season as the champions anymore," said Amonte Hiller. "It's just us going out there and playing and setting our new traditions. It's pretty exciting and it's a fresh new start for the girls, and it's something they are really embracing."
But despite coming up short in last season's championship game, Northwestern still remains right at the top when it comes to the country's top programs. The Wildcats notched their sixth-straight 20-win season in 2010, the longest streak in women's lacrosse history, and captured their sixth consecutive American Lacrosse Conference title, upping their conference winning streak to 36 games and counting.
Kelly Amonte Hiller begins her 10th season in Evanston, having already established herself among the all-time greats. She is 154-26 since restoring Northwestern to a varsity program in 2002, as her .856 winning percentage is the fourth-best in NCAA history and is tops among active Division I coaches.
Ann Elliott returns for her third season on the Wildcat sideline with her primary focus being the Northwestern defensive unit.
A constant on the Wildcat sidelines since 2003 will be noticeably absent as former All-American and assistant coach Lindsey Munday was named the head coach at Southern California this past January. But Amonte Hiller filled the opening well, bringing in former Towson All-American Hillary Fratzke to help run the Wildcat offensive attack.
Volunteer assistant coach Scott Hiller
also returns to the Northwestern sideline for his 10th season.
Northwestern's 2011 senior class consists of just five players, but Amonte Hiller emphasized how crucial the leadership of this class will be in the success of the Wildcats in 2011.
"With such a young team, leadership is going to be absolutely critical this season. Each of the seniors have realized that and you have seen each of them step up and make sure the underclassmen understand what it takes to be successful at this level."
Colleen Magarity, a second team All-ALC selection in 2011, will anchor the Northwestern defensive backfield after recording 26 ground balls and 17 caused turnovers in 2010. She will be joined by Kirstyn Atkinson who saw significant playing time last season.
Brooke Matthews saw time at both midfield and attack in the fall season, and Amonte Hiller expects the speedster to fill both roles during the regular season as well. Matthews notched 23 goals in 2010 with 32 ground balls, and will be joined by Rachel Fox in providing veteran experience for the Wildcats.
Darby St. Clair-Barrie continues to be one of the main leaders for Northwestern and is coming off her best season in which she recorded nine saves and a 7.02 goals against average in nearly 120 minutes of work.
A pair of All-Americans lead the Northwestern junior class as the class of 2012 feel it is their time to make noise on the national level. First team All-American Shannon Smith is a preseason Player of the Year candidate as she is the Wildcats' returning leader in points (102), goals (69) and assists (33). The only returning starter on attack, Amonte Hiller will look to Smith to be the Wildcats' offensive leader in 2011.
Second team All-American Alex Frank was hampered by injuries all last season, yet still managed to record 26 goals, 42 draws controls, 28 ground balls and 19 caused turnovers. With Frank playing healthy, she should prove to be a constant threat in the Northwestern midfield and one of the Wildcats' main draw specialists.
Goalkeeper Brianne LoManto took advantage of her first year as a starter between the pipes, recording 159 saves in 2010, the second-most in program history, with a .469 save percentage and an 8.95 goals against average. She, along with St. Clair-Barrie, give the Wildcats one of the most experience goaltending duos in the country.
Jessica Russo, Maria Tedeschi and Lacey Vigmostad each add significant depth to the Northwestern midfield unit as all three were constants in the Wildcat lineup in 2010. Russo (12) and Vigmostad (7) both notched career-bests in goals while the trio combined for 57 ground balls and 23 caused turnovers.
Amonte Hiller looks to her newcomers to make an immediate impact, which is something the Northwestern class of 2013 did in a major way in their freshman campaign. Third team All-American Taylor Thornton provided a spark, recording 38 ground balls, 33 draw controls and a team-best 29 caused turnovers in 2010 along with adding five goals and three assists. Amonte Hiller expects Thornton to be used all over the field in 2011, allowing her to showcase her athletic abilities.
Erin Fitzgerald came on strong in the second half of the year, finishing fourth on the team with 35 goals, and will be moved down to the attack for 2011. Amonte Hiller expects Fitzgerald to be among the regulars in the Northwestern starting lineup and could emerge as one of the Wildcats' top offensive threats.
Ali Cassera and Amanda Macaluso added a great deal of depth to the Northwestern midfield as the duo combined for 34 goals, 31 ground balls and 15 draw controls. Beatrice Conley and Alexa Delyra should both see some significant playing time at both the midfield and attack in 2011.
Gabriella Flibotte emerged as one of Northwestern's top defensive stoppers in the second half of the 2010 season, starting the final nine games and was named to the ALC Championship All-Tournament team.
Amonte Hiller has never been shy about giving her freshman quality playing time from the get-go, and this season should be no different as the 11 Wildcat newcomers will add significant depth.
The connection between Westwood High School and Northwestern continues to grow as Misha Beatty, Kerri Harrington and Kelly Rich add to the "pipeline" which has included two-time Tewaaraton Trophy winner Kristen Kjellman and All-American Meredith Frank. Ellie Clayman and Kate Macdonald bring the total to five newcomers from the Boston area.
Kat DeRonda, Caroline Gersuk, Alyssa Leonard and Kara Mupo all hail from New York, bringing the total number of players from the Empire State to 12. Jessica Roy is a suburban Philadelphia product while Christy Turner marks Amonte Hiller's first Florida recruit.
Once again, Northwestern will test itself against one of the nation's toughest schedules, facing 10 teams that were ranked among the final top-20 poll of 2010.
The Wildcats will get tested from the opening draw as NU's first five games will be on the road against teams that qualified for the NCAA tournament last year, traveling to Notre Dame, North Carolina, Vanderbilt, Navy and Georgetown. The games against the Fighting Irish and Tar Heels serving as rematches of last year's NCAA first round and semifinal games, while the meeting with the Commodores serves as a rematch of the ALC Championship game.
Northwestern opens up its home schedule against California on March 11 before an historic game against William & Mary at Cowboy Stadium in Dallas, Texas on March 19. The Wildcats then return home March 23 to face Syracuse, a team that made it to the Final Four in 2010.
Following a trip to Massachusetts, Northwestern returns home to face Duke in a rematch of last year's NCAA quarterfinal game on April 2. Penn State and Penn also visit Lakeside Field during the home stand with the games against the Blue Devils and Quakers being televised nationally on the Big Ten Network.
Northwestern makes its first-ever trip to Gainesville to face ALC opponent Florida before heading north to Baltimore to meet up with Johns Hopkins. Home games against conference rival Ohio State and Stanford close out the regular season slate of games in Evanston before the regular season finale at Virginia on April 30.
The 2011 American Lacrosse Conference Championship will take place May 5-7 at the Vanderbilt Lacrosse Complex in Nashville, Tenn., followed by what the Wildcats hope will be another NCAA tournament run. Should Northwestern advance to its seventh-straight final four, it will have a hometown feel for a number of Wildcats as this year's semifinals and final will be held at Stony Brook, N.Y.
Be the first to know what's going on with the 'Cats! -- Follow @NU_Sports on Twitter and become a fan of Northwestern Lacrosse on Facebook! Get the latest news, schedule updates, video and interact with NU. For more information on following specific Northwestern teams online, visit our Social Media page!