When it comes to sports, there’s no term taken so seriously as “perfection.” Whether it’s referring to an individual baseball game thrown by a pitcher or a season in which a team goes completely undefeated, perfection is one of the hardest things to achieve in sports. While a “perfect” season in college sports is not unheard of, it is still an incredible feat to recognize, and often only achieved by some of the most skilled and dedicated teams in the game.
While the season of Northwestern women’s lacrosse (13-0, 11-0 B1G) is far from over, they added a significant step to their legendary campaign this past weekend, winning the Big Ten Tournament title after winning two games in the tourney: a 24-14 win over Rutgers (6-8, 5-7 B1G) in the semifinal, and a 17-12 win over Maryland (9-6, 6-5 B1G) in the championship game. While both games ended up in lopsided fashion, the ’Cats faced significant challenges in both games, including significant deficits and stingy defenses.
Northwestern was led by junior attacker and NCAA leading scorer Izzy Scane, who recorded 11 goals over the two games and was named the Big Ten Tournament MVP, and graduate midfielder Sammy Mueller, who netted seven goals and added an assist. The ’Cats also saw significant contributions from sophomore attacker Lauren Coykendall, who recorded 10 assists.
Semifinal vs. Rutgers:
The first game against Rutgers, played on April 30, was a true back-and-forth affair. The ’Cats got off to a less-than-ideal start, as Rutgers seemed to be keeping up early. While Northwestern led 3-1 after just the first six minutes, the Scarlet Knights began to mount a lead on the ’Cats, with three goals from sophomore midfielder Cassidy Spilis putting the pressure on early. With 20 minutes left in the first half, Rutgers led 5-3.
20:01 | HAT TRICK! Cassidy Spilis spins to make it three goals in the first 10 minutes!— Rutgers Women's Lacrosse (@rutgers_wlax) April 30, 2021
RU 5, NU 3 pic.twitter.com/0lmKik7buX
Undeterred, the ’Cats began to turn up the heat and scored six straight goals of their own, showing significant passing activity and spreading the scoring around to all corners. Five different players scored during this frame, and Coykendall assisted on three of the six.
Following the outburst, Rutgers and Northwestern each traded two goals before halftime, setting up an 11-7 lead for the ’Cats to start the second half. The Scarlet Knights, however, refused to go down easy and came out with momentum to start the second half, scoring four straight goals to tie the game up at 11, including two from Spilis. With 25 minutes to play, the game was knotted up at 11.
26:49 | THREE-IN-A-ROW! Marin Hartshorn finds Ashley Campo and we're down just one.— Rutgers Women's Lacrosse (@rutgers_wlax) April 30, 2021
NU 11, RU 10 pic.twitter.com/WDYcFfeET8
26:28 | BACK EVEN! Cassidy Spilis ties it with her seventh (!) of the night!— Rutgers Women's Lacrosse (@rutgers_wlax) April 30, 2021
RU 11, NU 11 pic.twitter.com/BkwJZ2s4mo
Despite the outburst, the ’Cats quickly clamped down and set up shop in the Rutgers’ zone, outscoring the Scarlet Knights 13-3 over the final 25 minutes. Led by Mueller, who notched four goals in the second half, the ’Cats set up a potent scoring attack down low and put up an offensive clinic, completely controlling the game and winning by a 10-piece.
The ’Cats were also led in this performance by Coykendall, who notched nine assists on the day, and Mueller, who scored a career-high six goals.
Scane was held largely ineffective in the match, scoring just two goals on 12 shots, but the ’Cats were able to rally around their scorer and complete the game. In their efforts, Rutgers was led by Spilis, who recorded a Big Ten Tournament record nine goals in a single game.
Championship vs. Maryland:
Following the victory over Rutgers, the ’Cats entered Sunday’s championship game with high hopes but realistic expectations. Their opponent, the 10th-ranked team in the NCAA and 2019 National Champion Maryland Terrapins, was not to be trifled with. The game would be their toughest test so far this season.
At first, it looked like Northwestern was in for a rough ride. Maryland scored three straight goals in the first two minutes of the game and was able to climb out to a 5-1 lead with over 23 minutes to play in the first half. Led by sophomore attacker Libby May, who notched three goals early, the Terps looked nearly unstoppable out of the gate.
The ’Cats, however, quickly turned around and scored two goals of their own from senior midfielder Brennan Dwyer and Scane. Following the exchange, the two teams traded lengthy possessions and defensive stands, but neither was able to get a quality chance on goal for over nine minutes. Following the duel, the ’Cats and Terps traded goals, but two fantastic shots from fifth-year attacker Brindi Griffin put Maryland on top 7-4 with under 10 minutes to play in the first.
It was following this goal that Scane finally woke up from her slumber and began a record-tying performance that has become all-too-typical for the junior attacker. With her lethal shot, Scane recorded the next five goals for Northwestern, including three in the first-half to tie the score 7-7 going into halftime, and two more in the second. Scane, scoring four of the five unassisted, was a dynamo in front of the crease, pulling off flashy moves to put her team in front.
Sparked by the dominance of their leading scorer, the ’Cats didn’t trail again in the game. Following the five-goal stretch by Scane, Northwestern added three more goals to make it eight straight and stretch the lead to 12-7. Maryland tried to claw back, cutting the deficit to 12-10 at one point, but the continuing offensive brilliance by Scane and the ’Cats was too much to overcome.
Winning the game 17-12, the ’Cats won the Big Ten Tournament Championship to be declared undisputed winners of the conference, and Scane was named tournament MVP for her performance. With nine total goals in the championship, Scane tied the record set by Rutgers’ Spilis days earlier and permanently etched her name into the record books.
With the win, the ’Cats secured the conference’s only guaranteed bid to the NCAA Tournament and will likely be recognized as one of the top seeds, receiving a first-round bye. The team will find out their seeding and first potential matchup May 9. In addition to a guarantee of continuing their season, the ’Cats also received individual honors, including a unanimous Big Ten Attacker of the Year selection for Scane and a Big Ten Coach of the Year selection for head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller.
Perfection certainly isn’t easy, but Northwestern has one of the best shots for it in recent history. After all, they’ve netted plenty of goals this season, why not make their final one the national championship?