USC (14-0) was simply too much for Northwestern (6-7) Friday night, as the Trojans outmuscled the Wildcats en route to a 14-11 victory.
The Wildcats got off to a hot start, taking a 3-1 lead on a Kaleigh Craig score and then two Selena Lasota goals. But USC responded, scoring five unanswered goals to take a 6-3 lead. The Trojans were able to expose the Wildcat defense when they doubled up top, as USC attackers often snuck behind the defense and were easily able to put it past NU goalie Mallory Weisse.
But the NU defense tightened up early in the second half, and the ‘Cats were able to claw their way back, trailing just 8-7 with 17:15 left. The momentum, however, would shift once again as USC scored six goals in the next 10 minutes, going up 14-7 and putting the game away - or so it thought.
NU scrapped its way back once again, helped by two incredible Spring Sanders’ goals. The defender had only scored one career goal before today, but netted two crucial goals down the stretch. The Wildcats scored four goals unanswered in the final seven minutes, but that’s all they would get, as USC held off the run to secure the 14-11 victory.
"I think [Sanders] just stepped up," head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. "She's an emotional kid, she stepped up big and she was able to get us some momentum. She plays with a lot of heart and I think this team has a lot of heart. It's unfortunate we weren't able to capitalize on the opportunites we had today."
Lasota and Craig led the ‘Cats with three goals apiece. Sanders added two scores and Leighton Yenor, Nancy Dunbar and Christina Esposito all contributed one goal. Weisse had three saves for the Wildcats.
After impressive wins against Michigan and No. 5 Notre Dame, it seemed like NU had finally turned its season around. But USC was simply the better team on Friday, showing that the Wildcats still have a ways to go before they are ready for the NCAA Tournament.
"We just didn't finish our opportunities and we let them get ahead," Hiller said. "They were just able to finish the opportunities that they had."
Northwestern will look to get back on track Sunday when it hosts Rutgers (3-9). It will be the last game of the Wildcats' four-game homestand, as they will travel to Penn State and Ohio State to round out the season.