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Women’s Lacrosse: Irish host No. 1 Wildcats

Michael Bryan | Thursday, March 1, 2007

No. 5 Notre Dame will face off against No. 1 Northwestern tonight at 7 in the Loftus Center in the toughest test for the Irish so far this season.

The Irish (2-0) take on the two-time defending champion Wildcats after squeaking out overtime wins against James Madison Feb. 18 and Stanford Saturday.

The Wildcats are 1-1 heading into this battle of top-five teams. Northwestern dropped a tough 10-9 overtime match with No. 4 North Carolina Feb. 17 before rebounding with a dominating 20-2 win over No. 18 Vanderbilt Sunday.

The Irish will hope to contain Northwestern star Kristen Kjellman, last year’s Tewaarton Trophy winner for the best female lacrosse player in Division I. Kjellman scored 72 goals in 21 games last season and was named to her second straight All-America team as a junior.

Kjellman is just one of three Wildcat seniors named to the preseason All-American team. Attackers Aly Josephs and defender Lindsay Finocchiaro were also named to the first team, and Notre Dame will work to contain them as well.

“They definitely have a very prolific offense,” Irish coach Tracy Coyne said Wednesday. “We know they will get their goals, but we also feel very prepared defensively that we can counter their offensive sets and try to limit their fast breaks.”

The Irish rallied to beat Stanford 12-11 in double-overtime.

Notre Dame trailed 11-9 with less than eight minutes left in regulation when junior attacker Caitlin McKinney scored to pull the team within one. Senior midfielder Lena Zentgraf then scored off an assist by McKinney with 4:02 remaining to send the game to extra minutes.

Both teams went scoreless in the first three-minute overtime period, with both defenses stonewalling the offenses. It appeared the game would advance into sudden-death overtime when McKinney netted the unassisted goal for the victory.

“Even in a game when we faced adverse circumstances, we had the confidence and focus to pull through,” Coyne said after Saturday’s game.

Though sophomore attacker Jillian Byers netted three goals for the Irish, the hero of the game was McKinney. The junior midfielder/attacker scored a game-high six goals and was named Big East offensive player of the week for her performance.

McKinney’s play in the clutch has been crucial for the Irish. In victories over James Madison and the Cardinal, she recorded eight goals and an assist. In addition to the game-winner against Stanford, McKinney scored two game-tying goals late in the game against James Madison.

“Caitlin has really worked hard on her game, and now that effort is being rewarded,” Coyne said. “She’s earned every bit of success she’s had.”

Notre Dame and Northwestern faced off early last season in Evanston. The Wildcats overcame a 9-8 halftime deficit before rolling to a 21-12 victory over the Irish.