Despite being ranked second-overall in the NCAA tournament and having a perfect season, Northwestern women’s lacrosse (14-0, 11-0 B1G) is still receiving doubts on their abilities to dominate. Due to only playing teams in their conference because of concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic, the ’Cats had only played one team close to them in the power-rankings: No. 9 Maryland (10-7, 6-5 B1G), who gave them trouble in each of the three games they played. With a second-round matchup against No. 14 Denver (16-2, 10-0 SL) incoming, an opportunity arose to show just how good this Wildcat squad could be.
They did not disappoint. Northwestern absolutely destroyed Denver 19-4 in the second-round matchup in their first non-conference game since the 2020 season. With dominating play on both ends of the ball and the continuing dominance of junior attacker Izzy Scane, the ’Cats made a statement to their upcoming opponents: they are not to be trifled with.
“There's still a lot of doubt about our team out there,” Northwestern head coach Kelly Hiller said postgame. “It's up to us to kind of go out there and do our best every game, and kind of show what our team is all about. Today was the first step… and we need to show that we're one of the best every time we step out on the field.”
Scane, who leads the NCAA in goals this season, scored eight goals on the day to bring her single season total to 89, breaking the Northwestern single-season scoring record set ten years ago by Shannon Smith. Smith’s total of 86– an impressive total in its own right– was set over 23 games played. Due to the shortening of the season due to COVID-19, Scane’s record is even more impressive, notching 89 goals in just 14 games played.
“It's awesome,” Scane said postgame on breaking the record. “I think it just gives tribute to the amazing coaching and amazing players I played with for the last couple years. I think all the credit goes to them in making me the player I am today, and opening up those opportunities for me to score goals all season.”
Scane also notched three assists, bringing her point total to 11 for the day.
Sophomore attacker Erin Coykendall and senior midfielder Jill Girardi also notched impressive highs for the ’Cats in the victory. Coykendall, usually planting herself behind the net to set up shots in front, assisted on six of the Wildcat goals and scored two herself, notching eight points in the game. Girardi shined for the ’Cats behind the play, as she won a whopping 12 draws, helping Northwestern set up their offense and completely keeping Denver out of their zone.
“She's just been phenomenal here down the stretch,” Hiller said postgame on Girardi’s contributions. “Just unbelievable since our regular season Maryland series all the way till this point, and she's just been gaining in her confidence from momentum. She's incredibly athletic, she added a lot to our defense today, and I think they had a lot of swagger out there.”
Denver was led in their effort by graduate defender Molly Little, who scored three of the four Pioneer goals, and senior goaltender Amelia Cole, who made 16 saves in the defeat, including ten in the first half.
While the game was largely a cakewalk for the ’Cats, it didn’t start out as smoothly as they’d like. Denver caught a break early as they pushed through the zone and caught Northwestern first-year goaltender Madison Doucette out of the cage, with Little firing a long shot into the cage to put the Pioneers up early.
It would be the only lead Denver took all game, as the ’Cats fired back almost immediately, scoring five straight goals over nearly the next ten minutes, with Scane scoring two of them. The Wildcats’ defense also hung in tight, as Doucette made up for her mistake with four critical saves during this timespan, allowing Northwestern to make this run.
Following another goal from Molly Little, the ’Cats were able to spread the ball around more and take more time off the clock, scoring another four straight goals by four different players: Scane, Coykendall, senior attacker Lauren Gilbert and graduate midfielder Sammy Mueller. The ’Cats, however, could not pull away just yet, as Denver clamped down in the waning moments of the half and got two back on goals by junior attacker Kayla DeRose and Little again. Going into the second-half, the ’Cats led by just five.
Denver would not score again. The ’Cats outscored the Pioneers 10-0 in the second-half in one of the most brilliant displays of offense Evanston has ever seen. Following almost seven minutes with no offense, sophomore attacker Dylan Amonte broke through for Northwestern, with Coykendall and Gilbert following with goals of their own to put the ’Cats up by nine with over 17 minutes to play.
“Our goal is just to be relentless throughout,” Hiller said. “I knew that we could really put our foot on the gas pedal, and do our thing and just continue to put a lot of pressure on them. So that was our goal… I think we had a lot of shots in the first half [that] we didn't finish as well as we wanted to, and we were able to do that in the second half.”
The story of the half, however, was none other than Izzy Scane, who went on a blazing hot streak of five straight goals to give herself the scoring record and completely ice the game for the ’Cats. Her record-breaking goal came with 12:26 to play, as she picked up a nice feed from Coykendall behind and lasered a shot right into the net. Without hesitation for recognition of the moment, Scane picked up two more following, and assisted Gilbert after her streak to make it 18-4.
Despite the amazing total, Scane gave a lot of credit to her teammates, singing praises to Coykendall after the game.
“She's amazing,” Scane said. “I told her three times during the game how amazing she is… having a player like that on the field opens up so many opportunities to score goals, and [the] credit goes to her to be able to get those balls into the middle through like six sticks, just to get it right in my pocket.”
Under NCAA rules, if a team is leading by ten or more goals, the clock must run without pausing for stoppages in play. With time flowing easily for the ’Cats, Hiller pulled her star core and allowed the young reserves to see some playing time, with sophomore midfielder Eve Hritzuk picking up her first goal of the season to make it 19-4.
Northwestern didn’t just beat Denver, they destroyed them. The final statlines for the game prove so, with the ’Cats winning more draw controls (21-5; 12 of them won by Gilbert), firing more shots (45-15) and free-position plays (15-3). While Denver played rough and picked up six penalties in the scramble, the ’Cats were not trifled with, and quickly overpowered their opposition.
The ’Cats will now host No. 8 Duke (11-7, 4-6 ACC) in the quarterfinals in Evanston, where they’ll have a chance to return to the Final Four and prove themselves true champions. Duke is no easy opponent themselves, however, as they host a seasoned resume in the ACC– playing teams like No. 1 North Carolina (19-0, 9-0 ACC) and No. 3 Syracuse (15-3, 8-2 ACC) – and even beat Big Ten runner-up Maryland in the second round (). Duke will be Northwestern’s toughest opponent yet, but with the greatest scorer in the NCAA on their side– as well as a raucous Evanston hometown crowd behind them– it’s hard to pick against the Wildcats just yet.
“We've been watching them, we've been watching the other top teams in the country,” Hiller said. “We’ll be very excited to host them and have a chance to play against a really strong opponent.”