Northwestern freshman goalie Bridget Bianco had her "I’m not in Moorestown anymore" moment during one of the Wildcats’ first fall ball games in October.
The former Moorestown (N.J.) star took her normal stance in a normal crease, defending a normal goal on a normal field, nothing else about the game she’s played since childhood seemed normal.
The ball zipped around the field like a blur. The offensive players rotated and cut around her with relentless precision. The defense she was directing slid and doubled faster than she could call out the commands, and even when she tried her calls were drowned out by the louder screams of the players surrounding her.
“There’s so much talking and people moving left and right and doubles and slides that it spins your head a little if you’re not used to it,” Bianco said. “While that happened in high school, it’s so much faster and more efficient in college. The pace of the game is something all of us freshman are still trying to get used to.”
For a high school All-American who was one of the top goalies to ever come out of national-power Moorestown, it was a rude awakening to how much faster the college game is than high school. But it was also one of the biggest motivators for Bianco as she continues transitioning to college lacrosse.
Bianco and her fellow freshman will get to see how much they’ve adapted to the speed when Northwestern competes in the 2012 Champion Challenge at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex on Jan. 28-29. The two-day exhibition features the defending national-champion Wildcats facing off against Team USA and Team England.
“I’m really excited to see how it all plays out facing some of the top players in the country,” Bianco said. “As a team we’re taking it as a real game that we want to win. As an individual I’m extremely excited to get on the field if possible and see what happens.”
If her high school career is any indication, good things should happen.
Bianco was a two-time All-American at Moorestown and helped lead the Quakers to three Group 3 state championships and two Tournament of Champions titles. She finished her career with 449 saves, a 61.2 career save percentage and a 4.8 goals against average.
She earned virtually every honor awarded as a senior and was the No. 2 goalie in the ESPNHS 50 last year. Those were big reasons why Northwestern, which has won five of the last six national titles, recruited her. But it wasn’t the only one.
“She’s a tough competitor,” Northwestern coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. “She plays athletic and she finds a way to come up with big saves. She did that for us this fall and it was exciting.”
Bianco knows she’s going to have to compete to see the field this year or next. Northwestern returns one of the top goalies in the country in senior Brianne LoManto and has another freshman keeper, Brooke Jones of Edina (Minn.), who will push Bianco for playing time in the years to come.
But Bianco is taking everything in stride and trying to learn from the elder goalie.
“Playing behind Breezey [LoManto’s nickname] is one of the best things I could ask for as a freshman,” Bianco said. “She teaches me different things with film study and how to communicate on the field and it definitely helps me a lot.
“My expectation is to learn a lot this year and get some experience. I definitely think there’s a ton of room for me to grow so I’m just going to keep on working to get better.”
Just like she did in the fall.