Following a dominant win over Arizona State, Northwestern aimed to continue their success in South Bend, Indiana, against Notre Dame for the first time in two years.
Losing to the Fighting Irish in their last rendezvous, the team wanted revenge and sought to hand Notre Dame a defeat on its home turf. With leadership from graduate attacker Lauren Gilbert and graduate midfielders Brennan Dwyer and Jill Girardi, the squad was well prepared to leave Loftus Sports Center victorious.
The Wildcats (3-1, 0-0 Big Ten) defeated Notre Dame (1-3, 0-0 ACC) 17-16 Wednesday, overcoming offensive struggles in the second half. Gilbert led the team with seven goals while Dwyer finished second with three of her own. The two graduate players were central roles for the team against the Fighting Irish, pushing NU’s fast break opportunities and facilitating offensive plays.
However, the Cats started the first quarter rocky, allowing Notre Dame to grab a quick two-goal lead early. Although it played just a few days ago, NU appeared timid and made careless passes inside the eight-meter, forcing the ball over. On the heels of this rare sighting for the solid offensive unit, the squad was searching for a player to take charge.
Sophomore midfielder Hannah Johnson stepped into the role: she scored the first goal, acting as a lifesaver for a struggling Cats’ offense. From there, NU found its rhythm, taking a three-goal advantage courtesy of Gilbert and Dwyer.
The Cats continued their offensive momentum heading into the second quarter, pushing the fast break runs from the draw circle. Gilbert and Dwyer exploited the crux in the Fighting Irish’s defense, grabbing additional goals from eight-meter shots. With a four-goal lead, NU seemed to be cruising past the ACC foes. But the Fighting Irish would not go down quietly — they went on an offensive run late in the second quarter.
With both teams exchanging bursts of momentum, the Cats attempted to keep their composure in the final minutes before halftime. And yet, a turnover from junior attacker Erin Coykendall nearly gave Notre Dame the chance to get within one.
Entering the third quarter, NU was put to the test on the defensive end of the field. The Fighting Irish were clawing back into the contest, limiting the Cats’ possessions and looks at the net. And yet, Gilbert persevered, recording three goals in the time frame off of woman-up and free position situations. The squad finished the third quarter strong, holding a three-goal lead prior to the last 15 minutes of regulation.
NU kicked into another gear at the beginning of the fourth quarter, making two fast break scoring chances to extend its lead to five. Silent for most of the game, Coykendall showcased her versatility facilitating an effortless assist to Dwyer and dodging past her defender for a goal.
When it seemed the Cats were cruising past Notre Dame to victory, the Fighting Irish clawed back again. Going on a four-goal run, Notre Dame was within one goal and aiming to take the lead for the first time since the first quarter.
The remaining four minutes highlighted NU’s attempt to stall and halt the Fighting Irish from garnering any more offensive momentum. The Cats were successful with Girardi grabbing the last draw control with 17 seconds remaining in the game. The squad ran and played keep-away against the Fighting Irish until the game clock signaled the end of regulation.
NU will head back to Evanston to face Syracuse at Ryan Fieldhouse next Tuesday.
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