With Johns Hopkins clinging to a one-goal lead in the closing minutes of Saturday's game against second-ranked Northwestern, Blue Jays coach Janine Tucker told her team that it was just as important to play with their heads as their feet.
The Blue Jays tried to maintain possession by spreading the ball around the field to deny the Wildcats a final possession. Northwestern, however, eventually forced a turnover but could not get a shot off after earning a free position and the host Blue Jays held on for the 12-11 victory.
It was the highest-ranked opponent Johns Hopkins has beaten in its 13-year history as a Division I program. The Wildcats, who were coming off a stunning defeat to fifth-ranked Florida earlier in the week, lost two consecutive games for the first time in eight years.
"We always just ask the girls to take a breath," Tucker said. "We needed to be smart because obviously Northwestern is one of the best teams in the country. We talked about that if we committed a turnover to get it right back and that's what our girls did."
The Blue Jays improved to 9-5 overall and 1-2 in the American Lacrosse Conference. Northwestern fell to 12-2 overall and 2-2 in the league, two games behind Florida.
Northwestern won 18 of 25 draws. Johns Hopkins won the ground-ball battle, 16-12.
Colleen McCaffrey scored two of her three goals in four minutes to give Johns Hopkins its first lead, 8-7, with 23:11 left in the game. Northwestern's Gabriella Flibotte tied it nearly two minutes later.
The teams then traded goals minutes before Rachel Ballatori and McCaffrey gave Johns Hopkins a 12-10 lead with 7:09 remaining. Alex Frank cut into the margin one minute later and nearly tied the game just seconds after that when her shot caromed off the post.
"They're just another team to us," McCaffrey said. "They're in our conference. We knew we had to go into this confident and I think that is one of the reasons why we won. We were confident we could play and win."
Brooke Foussadier and Candace Rossi each scored two goals and Johns Hopkins trailed 5-4 with 11:35 remaining in the first half. The Blue Jays continued to stay within striking distance, and a goal by Katie Duffey with 1:05 remaining tied the game at six. However, Taylor Thornton scored on a free position 17 seconds later to give the Wildcats the lead at the break.
"This is unreal because we have been waiting for this for so long," Johns Hopkins defenseman Alyssa Kildare said. "We knew we could do it. We believed in ourselves."
Brooke Matthews (Friends) led the Wildcats with three goals.
"There were too many costly mistakes, turnovers," Northwestern coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. "These kids have to learn and be their best every moment. Unfortunately, this group has wasted a lot of time and it's caught up to them."