EVANSTON, Ill. -- Fourth-ranked Northwestern takes its 11-game winning streak on the road this weekend, traveling to Gainesville, Fla. for a decisive American Lacrosse Conference matchup with No. 3 Florida. The 'Cats, who sit atop the ALC standings with a 4-0 league mark, will look to wrap up the top seed in next month's ALC Tournament with a road win over the Gators (3-1 ALC).
Opening draw on Saturday is set for 11 a.m. CT at Florida's Donald R. Dizney Stadium. Wildcats fans have the option of watching the live video stream on GatorVision linked above (subscription required) or tuning into a free online radio call of the game on WRUF Online. As always, fans also can access live in-game updates by following @NU_SportsLIVE on Twitter.
Coach Amonte Hiller Interview
Scouting the Gators/Series Info 2013 Season: 15-1 (3-1 ALC), No. 3 IWLCA 2012 Postseason: NCAA Semifinals Head Coach: Amanda O'Leary (Temple '88); fourth season at Florida (222-80 career record, 60-16 at Florida) Key Players: Kitty Cullen (Sr., A): 37 goals, 13 assists, 15 ground balls; Shannon Gilroy (So., M): 39 goals, 45 draw controls; Gabi Wiegand (Sr., A): 28 goals, 11 assists In the Cage: Mikey Meagher (Sr., GK): 6.90 GAA, .471 save pct., 81 saves Series History: Florida leads, 3-2 Last Meeting: Florida 14, Northwestern 7 (2012 ALC Tournament final; Gainesville, Fla.)
The only two champions in the history of the American Lacrosse Conference Tournament, Northwestern and Florida have staged several memorable battles in recent seasons, with the Gators taking a 3-2 edge in the all-time series thanks to two victories over NU last season. Florida nabbed an 8-7 win at Lakeside Field during the regular season before claiming its first conference crown with a 14-7 victory on its home field in the title game of the ALC Tournament.
Florida is attempting to become only the second school to record a three-game winning streak against NU during Kelly Amonte Hiller's tenure as head coach and the first since Vanderbilt managed to win three straight from 2002-04, NU's first three years as a varsity program. The Wildcats, meanwhile, are in search of their first road win over the Gators (0-2 in Gainesville).
Saturday promises to be an emotional day for many in attendance at Donald R. Dizney Stadium in Gainesville as the Gators say goodbye to the lacrosse program's first-ever four-year senior class. The highly accomplished class of 12 Florida seniors has helped the Gators go from a brand-new program in 2010 to a national semifinalist and a mainstay in the top-5 national rankings during their four years on campus. The date marks Florida's regular-season finale, giving the Gators two weeks off before heading to the ALC Tournament in Baltimore May 2-5.
This year's Florida squad once again ranks among the nation's leaders in scoring production, with the Gators beginning the week ranked third in scoring offense (15.2 goals per game) and total points (326) despite not having an individual rank higher than 63rd in goals per game (Shannon Gilroy, 2.44). Defensively, 2012 ALC Goalie of the Year Mikey Meagher again anchors a Gators defensive unit that stands third in the country in scoring defense with 6.88 goals surrendered per game. Florida has allowed double-digit goal totals only three times this year, giving up a season-high 16 in its lone loss of the year to conference foe Penn State on March 30.
Northwestern's attack has been bolstered in recent games by the play of senior Beatrice Conley, who has started the last four games for NU and racked up five goals and to assists in that stretch. She notched her first career two-goal game against No. 9 Duke on Friday and followed that up with another two-goal effort Sunday in a win over Stanford, also picking up two ground balls and a draw control vs. the Cardinal.
Senior midfielder Gabriella Flibotte's ability to break up an opponent's attack with a well-timed stick check has been on display throughout the season, and the statistics now back it up. With a trio of caused turnovers against Stanford Sunday, Flibotte now has 33 on the year, tied with Christy Finch (2006) for the fourth-highest total in NU single-season history. Only Finch (70 in 2008, 59 in 2007) and Alex Frank (36 last season) have compiled more caused turnovers in a single year for the 'Cats. Northwestern's current lineup features two of the most prolific defenders in school history, with Taylor Thornton having moved into third all-time with 89 caused turnovers and fourth with 164 ground balls, while Flibotte stands eighth with 75 caused turnovers.
Thornton on the Attack
Ever since achieving a single-game career high four goals against Ohio State on March 27, senior Taylor Thornton has kept the hot hand on offense with at least one goal in six consecutive outings -- and doing so efficiently, with 12 goals on 14 shot attempts. The Dallas native, who has started all 82 games of her Wildcats career, now has at least 20 goals in back-to-back seasons and a total of 72 for her career.
Fitzgerald Still Streaking
Senior attacker Erin Fitzgerald has won back-to-back American Lacrosse Conference Offensive Player of the Week awards, and for good reason. Fitzgerald has scored at least one goal in every game this year, in 18 straight dating back to last season and in 47 of her last 48 games, recently reaching the 200-career points plateau and moving past Hannah Nielsen into ninth on Northwestern's career goals list (177). The 2012 IWLCA All-American ranks eighth nationally in goals per game this year with 3.29.
On The Draw
The last time Northwestern and Florida met on the lacrosse field, the Gators were able to dominate possession to the tune of an 18-5 advantage on draw controls for the game. Junior Alyssa Leonard, who recently assumed the top spot on Northwestern's career draw controls list with 273, will look to reclaim an advantage on the circle for the 'Cats, who have won or been even on the draw in all but one game this season. Leonard's 91 draw controls this season match her own single-season best set in 2011 and are tied with Kristen Kjellman's total in the 2006 campaign for the second-best single-season sum. Leonard needs 19 draw controls to match Danielle Spencer's program record of 110 established in 2010.
Bianco A Force in the Cage
Sophomore goalkeeper Bridget Bianco continued her outstanding play in the net during Northwestern's nonconference victories over No. 9 Duke (12-4) and No. 15 Stanford (12-8) last week. Against Duke, Bianco recorded several point-blank saves through the first 30 minutes as the Wildcats posted a first-half shutout of the Blue Devils and ultimately finished with five stops, one caused turnover and two ground balls on the evening. Two days later, Bianco tied a career high with nine saves against the Cardinal, raising her season save percentage to .497 while keeping her goals against average to a stout 6.82, good for sixth and third in the country, respectively.
After facing Florida, Northwestern will close out its regular season next week with one final road trip to regional rival Notre Dame on Wednesday evening before returning to Evanston on Saturday, April 27. The Wildcats will host Penn in their regular-season finale and also recognize the seven graduating seniors playing their final regular season game at Lakeside Field.