You win some, you lose some. For Northwestern women’s lacrosse, you usually win; losing doesn’t often factor into the equation. However, on the heels of a heartbreaking Final Four loss to North Carolina, the Wildcats will have to reload and figure out what to do when you do lose some. Fortunately, they have just the team to do it with.
First and foremost, you can’t talk about Northwestern lacrosse without mentioning attacker Lauren Gilbert. Gilbert was the nation’s fifth-leading scorer with 79 goals last season and the best “free position” player known to mankind. Her speed, acceleration and toughness will be sorely missed, as she graduated following last year.
If Gilbert defined the “free position,” then midfielder Jill Girardi was the queen of draw controls. Finishing second in the country in draw controls won per game last season, the Girardi Party ensured that with every faceoff after every score, Northwestern had the chance to score again and again and again.
Finally, on the topic of scoring, midfielder Brennan Dwyer has also graduated. Between Gilbert, Girardi and Dwyer, Northwestern is losing 155 goals from 2022. Meanwhile, Ally Palermo held down the defense, making goalkeeper Madison Doucette’s job easier, not that she needed the help. They leave a gap in the Wildcats’ defense, taking their talents with them following their graduation.
Here’s the great news – Graduate attacker Izzy Scane is back. Full stop. One of the most prolific scorers in Northwestern history, all the Preseason First Team All-American did in her last full season – in 2021 – was score 98 goals, good for fifth-best all-time, and was in her own stratosphere averaging an NCAA record 6.12 goals per game. She led the Wildcats to an unprecedented team average of 20.12 goals per game, another NCAA record, and – oh yeah – she did this in just 16 games. Now coming back from a torn ACL that caused her to miss the entire 2022 season, the Scane Train will be feasting for scores.
With last year’s top two scorers now gone, fourth-year attacker Erin Coykendall, last season’s third-leading goal scorer on the team, will fill the role of Scane’s partner in crime. She more than doubled her goal-scoring production from 2021 to 2022, going from 21 goals to 45. She’s shown that she can make big plays and is even better at finding the open woman for the score as the team’s leader in assists.
As far as newcomers go, Northwestern has a huge one to add to their attacker room – graduate student transfer Hailey Rhatigan from Mercer. Last season, Rhatigan scored an incredible 93 goals, good for second in the nation. Her talents will pair nicely with those of Scane and Coykendall.
Rounding out the scoring is a clowder of Wildcats with at least 16 goals last year: third-year attacker Leah Holmes, second-year midfielder Samantha Smith, graduate midfielder Elle Hansen, fourth-year attacker Dylan Amonte, third-year defender Hannah Johnson and third-year midfielder Carleigh Mahoney.
On the defensive end, reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year defender Samantha White will look to fill the role Palermo played, while either fourth-year Logan Lillie or graduate transfer Molly Laliberty will have big shoes to fill replacing Doucette in the goal. White in particular was only one ground ball behind Palermo, the team’s leader last season, and should serve as a strong replacement.
Last season, the Wildcats played 13 ranked teams, finishing 8-5 in ranked competition, including tournament play where they lost to #1 UNC by one point in the Final Four. Northwestern was left with a sour taste left in their mouth as they let the game slip away by relinquishing a 14-7 fourth-quarter lead.
After being 2022 unanimous Big Ten preseason favorites, the ’Cats come into 2023 behind Maryland as favorites to win the conference. They open the season with three of last year’s top 20 teams, starting with a road game against a revenge-minded Syracuse team that Northwestern beat twice in Evanston last year. Followed by Notre Dame and Boston College at home, preseason #4 Northwestern faces heavy competition out of the gate.
This season they will play 11 teams from last year’s top 25 and 13 from the top 30. They’ll have the opportunity to exorcize demons when they play Boston College, North Carolina, Maryland and Rutgers – the teams that gave Northwestern their five losses. Fun fact – every semi-finalist from last year will play in Evanston this year. Talk about the toughest schedule in the country.
With firepower galore, the Lake Show won’t be taking no for an answer this year. Come Feb. 11, 2023, they’ll begin their crusade once again for a title. This is a team built to win now. And, if the stats are to be believed, win they will. Just you wait and see.
Thumbnail photo by Joanne Haner/North by Northwestern