Feb. 15, 2008
EVANSTON, Ill. -- Northwestern's quest for a fourth-straight NCAA title begins at 2 p.m. CT as the top-ranked Wildcats open the 2008 season at California. This will be the first of three-straight road games to open the season. The Wildcats will play their first game at the new Lakeside Field on March 7.
Below is a Q&A with head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller from the 2008 media guide to preview the upcoming season.
After three-straight titles, how do you keep things fresh for yourself and your players?
"The biggest thing for us is that we try to focus on 'today.' Not 'yesterday' and not 'tomorrow.' When you focus on today, you don't get caught up on records, stats and awards. That has been the winning solution for us. More than ever, we feel more comfortable in the position that we are in where people come after us every game. Everyone brings their best game against you and you know you have to elevate."
How do you replace two-time Teewaaraton Award winner Kristen Kjellman and last year's senior class?
"That senior class was one of the most talented classes we've had. The group we have now is so motivated to not only replace them, but to elevate this program to the next level. They know it's going to take a lot of work, but it is exciting for players that haven't played before or players that need to step up from previous roles. That's the best part of sports -- the new year and new excitement and building a new tradition."
Hannah Nielsen really burst onto the lacrosse scene after leading the Wildcats in points last season. What does she mean to this year's team?
"The biggest thing about her is her presence. She is such a leader and has such a strong presence on the field. Beyond all of her talents, that is what makes her great and what is exciting about this season. Her and Hilary Bowen are like a dynamic duo together on the attack. They love creating and it is going to be a lot of fun with them."
As seniors graduate, the next season always brings new players stepping up. Who are you looking at to make big leaps for 2008?
"Meredith Frank is coming off an amazing season. Danielle Spencer will be a big gun for us offensively. She is taller than 6-feet and can really run. Ali Jacobs has really stepped up for us in the midfield. She did a great job last year, but now she has become a leader and is filling that role that Kristen Kjellman had. Katrina Dowd had three goals in the championship game last year and is carrying that momentum into this season. Casey Donohoe has stepped up offensively. She had a limited role last year, but she'll get a lot more time and she can pretty much put away any shot she has the opportunity to take."
"Hilary Alley and Kim Pantages are coming off injuries and will be looking to contribute."
"Defensively, Caroline Tesar is filling a big role. She played in the midfield as a freshman, but we're moving her back. She has great athleticism and speed and is a sponge for learning. Sara Harrington played in the midfield last year and has been stepping up for us defensively. Kristin McCandlish will aid our defense as well."
"For a leadership, we will look to our senior class of Quinn Cammarota, Christy Finch, Fallon McGraw and Lindsay North. They have given so much to this program and will be the ones setting examples."
Talk about your returning senior All-American defender Christy Finch.
"I was so impressed with her last year because she was our most consistent player, which is saying a lot considering who was on the team. She brought her highest intensity and A-game to every competition. We are looking for her to continue that, take it to another level and to mentor younger players stepping into defensive roles."
Morgan Lathrop is coming off a stellar sophomore season. What do you expect from her in her junior year?
"She has been such a great asset to our team. She is another player that has great presence. The thing about her is that even if she has the worst game, she'll make the save that counts. That is what makes her special. She is so strong under pressure and so competitive. She is a real leader for us. To have her and Christy Finch back even though we lost our big defenders in Lindsay Finochiaro and Annie Elliot is big because we look for them to take the lead."
You are moving into a new facility for 2008. How important is the new Lakeside Field to the program?
"It is what we have been waiting for. We had close to the best facility in the country before the new Lakeside Field because of the location. No one could compare to being next to Lake Michigan. Now that we have lights and lots of seating, it is such a fan-friendly environment and we're excited to hopefully draw some big crowds. With the FieldTurf surface, we can practice on our game field in the winter. To have such a consistent surface that we can practice on all-year round, is just an asset that you can't measure. I think we have one of the best facilities in the nation."
Some notes of interest from last season and looking forward to 2008...
The Wildcats return their top two point leaders from their championship squad of 2007 in juniors Hannah Nielsen and Hilary Bowen. Nielsen, a first-team All-American and one of five finalists for the Tewaaraton Trophy--won by former Wildcat Kristen Kjellman--led NU with 119 points on 50 goals and 69 assists.
In 2007, NU captured its third-straight women's lacrosse national championship. The Wildcats became only the second team in NCAA Division I women's lacrosse history to accomplish that feat.
Northwestern set NCAA single-season records with 529 points, 361 goals, 168 assists and a 16.4 goals-per game average. They also set a school record with 189 saves.
Christy Finch was named the Inside Lacrosse and IWLCA Defender of the Year after finishing second in the NCAA with 59 caused turnovers and 53 ground balls.
Northwestern is 52-2 over the past three seasons.
Hannah Nielsen set an NCAA single-season record with 69 assists and set a school record with 119 points.
Goalkeeper Morgan Lathrop set an individual school record with 160 saves, breaking the old mark of 157 set by Johanna King in 1987.
Northwestern enters the season with 32-straight home wins dating to the end of the 2004 season. The NCAA record is 40.
Kelly Amonte Hiller owns the best all-time winning percentage in NCAA Championship history (minimum 10 games). She is 13-1 (.928) over the past four seasons.