This past fall, Northwestern claimed its ninth National Championship in school history, courtesy of the dominant women’s field hockey team. One of those titles belongs to the 1941 fencing team, while the remaining seven are owned by the greatest Northwestern sport ever, historically speaking: women’s lacrosse.
The Wildcats are a decade removed from their last lacrosse championship, but they have been on the cusp of greatness the past couple of seasons and are coming off a Final Four appearance in 2021. They completed an undefeated regular season (15-1, 11-0 B1G), secured a B1G title, were the NCAA’s best scoring offense with 20.12 goals/game and were the No. 2 team in the nation before falling to Syracuse in the semifinals.
Despite the hard loss, Northwestern still comes into this season as the fourth ranked team in the country, as well as the unanimous preseason Big Ten favorites.
With a tougher schedule that features regular season non-conference opponents for the first time since before the pandemic, Northwestern will have their work cut out for them to win it all.
The Elephant in the Room
Slight problem: Senior attacker Izzy Scane, the NCAA’s second-leading scorer last season, will not be on the field to repeat her success. Scane tore her ACL in early December 2021 and announced she will miss the season, a devastating blow for the ’Cats.
Scane scored an incredible 98 goals last year, good enough to reach third all-time in just 16 games. Boston College’s Charlotte North needed five additional games to reach the same number of goals Scane scored in 16. North finished with 102 goals over 21 in 2021. She also averaged a record-breaking 6.12 goals per game. For context, no other player who played in more than one game averaged even five goals/game last year (North, 4.86). Needless to say, Scane is in her own stratosphere and impossible to truly replace.
Also missing from last year’s roster are midfielders Sammy Mueller and Lindsey McKone, both of whom graduated following the Final Four berth. Both were excellent in running the offense, with 56 and 44 points in 2021 respectively, and their scoring will be sorely missed.
While the loss of some great players casts a shadow overhead, lacrosse is still a team spoct. And believe us, there is more than enough firepower to go around.
Graduate attacker Lauren Gilbert is the quintessential “free position” player in the game, finishing top five in the country in free position goals per game last season. That means when a penalty was committed against the ’Cats, she’s the one taking the shot, and for good reason. Only three players were more accurate in penalty conversions than Gilbert in the Big Ten.
She can score from anywhere on the field, though, as she was a top 10 scorer with 66 goals of her own. With unmatched speed and acceleration, the Big Ten Preseason Offensive Player of the Year will have to take new command of the Lake Show with Scane out of commission.
Junior attacker Erin Coykendall will also be a key player for the ’Cats. After bursting onto the scene last season, she finished 10th in assists and had 21 goals of her own. She’s primed for a starring role after an improved sophomore year in which she started all 16 games and was the most accurate shooter of the starters, making 67.7% of her shots.
Sophomore attacker Leah Holmes will be asked to step up as well, and she’s shown she is capable of producing, scoring as many goals as Coykendall and seeing action in every game as a freshman. Holmes was also the most accurate starting Wildcat in terms of shots on goal at 86.1%.
As the first team to ever average 20 points per game, the ‘Cats will feel the loss of Scane, but fear not, these ’Cats will score nonetheless.
Northwestern also returns two of its star midfielders, graduate players Brennan Dwyer and Jill Girardi. Both players – Dwyer in particular – are critical in faceoffs, which determine initial possession at the start of games and after every goal. Winning this faceoff is crucial for the offensive gameplan.
The Wildcats rely on Dwyer for the draw control, and the team led the NCAA with 19.19 draws/game and were ninth in draw control percentage (58.8%). Girardi, on the other hand, was a turnover machine with a team-leading 19 created turnovers.
The team will also welcome first-year midfielders Emerson Bohlig, Samantha Smith and Samantha White, all of whom are former high school All-Americans.
While the team is not particularly known for their defense, senior goalkeeper Madison Doucette has been a solid fixture in the crease. Graduate student Ally Palermo does her part to make Doucette’s job easier as the Wildcat’s premier defender. Voted the Big Ten Preseason Defensive Player of the Year, Palermo snagged 18 turnovers and 30 ground balls in 2021, a team-leader in both categories.
The most formidable obstacle on their road to a title is not their offensive losses, but a schedule that will be significantly more difficult than last year’s. The NCAA instituted a conference-play only regular season due to COVID in 2021 but is returning to a normal schedule for 2022.
Northwestern only faced two top 10 teams all last year, #7 Duke and #3 Syracuse, both in the NCAA tournament. Maryland was the only other B1G team to finish in the top 40 last season, 37th compared to NU’s fifth-ranked finish. So of course, the Wildcats draw the reigning national champion and top-ranked Boston College Eagles as their first matchup of 2022. They get to follow that up with games against the No. 5, 3, 2, and 6 teams in the nation – in that order – before B1G play begins. Brutal doesn’t even begin to cover it. However, the schedule significantly eases once they move past that initial slate of top-ranked showdowns.
Northwestern will have a chance to prove themselves as leading contenders early and often. The season starts at #1 Boston College on February 12 before the Lake Show comes home for a Valentine’s Day date with Marquette. Wildcat fans have a lot to look forward to as the winningest team on campus returns to the field.
Better get your popcorn ready: the Lake Show is back.