Northwestern Lacrosse vs. North Carolina

Northwestern's women's lacrosse team, led by captain Christy Turner, will take on USC at Wrigley Field on Saturday. (Courtesy of Northwestern athletics / March 31, 2014)

For at least one day, Wrigley Field will be the home field of a seven-time national champion.

In lacrosse, that is.

"We're really excited to be playing at Wrigley," said Christy Turner, the 22-year-old captain of Northwestern's women's team. "It's very unique to this program."

The Wildcats will make history as the first group of women to take center stage at the Friendly Confines since World War II. The game, which will be played Saturday night against USC, marks the first time in over 90 years Wrigley has hosted a lacrosse match. It's also the home regular-season finale for seniors such as Turner and teammate Kerri Harrington.

So, no pressure, right?

"I never would have imagined that I would graduate here having played at Gillette Stadium, Dallas Cowboys Stadium and Wrigley," said Harrington, a 21-year-old Massachusetts native. "We're very lucky."

"I think it's probably more so that it's our final game at college here," Turner said. "Nothing's really that nerve-wracking, we're just really excited about where this season is headed."

Northwestern officials say they've sold around 5,000 tickets for Saturday's game. The team is getting a major assist from an NHL legend to help get the word out.

Former Blackhawks star Chris Chelios, better known on the Northwestern women's lacrosse team as their teammate Caley's dad, bought and distributed 500 tickets free to students.

"I know a lot of students and student athletes went and picked up those tickets," Turner said. "I think everybody's really excited."

"In the elevator the other day, I had my little Northwestern logo on and two people were asking what time the game is and want to know all about it," Harrington added.

Saturday's game is a result of a partnership between Northwestern and the Cubs, which has seen the school play a football and a baseball game at Wrigley since 2010.

Coach Kelly Amonte-Hiller, no stranger to the big stage herself, said she hasn't picked football coach Pat Fitzgerald's brain for advice on coaching in the historic ballpark just yet.

"He's a little busy," she said, laughing. "I'm sure I'll speak to him in the next day or two. I spoke to our baseball coach and we've talked a little bit about the Wrigley experience and how special it was for his players."

With the Cubs at home all week, the field hasn't been set up and players haven't had a chance to practice on it yet. 

While the lack of space outside the playing field caused major issues for Northwestern’s football game, forcing them to use only one end zone for safety reasons, Amonte-Hiller said they’re configuring it so that there’s plenty of room for players to move without having to worry about running into a wall.

“It’s gonna be on a diagonal just outside of the pitcher’s mound,” she said. “It’ll be a little bit in the outfield but also in the infield as well, so it’s kind of on a diagonal. They set up the field so there’s proper distance and safety.

"We're going down on Friday for our walk-through just to kind of see what the field is like and how the ball is handled under the lights, adjust to any changes," Turner said. "Our game plan—nothing's changing."

Amonte-Hiller herself has had a whirlwind week, making appearances to promote the game while trying to keep her team focused.

The Wildcats enter the regular-season finale on a two-game losing streak and hope to use the Wrigley game to generate momentum before their conference tournament next week in Evanston.

"It's such a big stage; I'm not worried about them being focused," she said. "They're going to be ready."

But for as much as the players and their coach are trying to play off Saturday's contest as just another game, everyone knows what's at stake. Amonte-Hiller saw how the football program benefited from the pomp and circumstance surrounding their contest at Wrigley against Illinois four years ago and is hoping to make the most out of her program's turn in the spotlight.

"That's the goal for female athletics to get an opportunity like that," she said. "Hopefully we'll be able to create new fans that don't know that much about lacrosse and might come out for the game."

Matt Lindner is a RedEye special contributor.

 

LACROSSE AT WRIGLEY

Northwestern vs. USC

7 p.m. Saturday, Big Ten Network

Tickets: $10. Visit nusports.com or go to the Wrigley Field box office.

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