Northwestern women's lacrosse walks back onto the field during a game against Denver. Despite one of the best seasons in recent memory, the team could not punch back into the NCAA Championship. Photo by Joanne Haner / North by Northwestern

Northwestern women’s lacrosse (15-1, 11-0 B1G) was having the run of a lifetime. A perfect regular season, a Big Ten Regular Season and Tournament Championship. Dominant out-of-conference wins against the University of Denver (16-2, 10-0 SL) and Duke (11-8, 4-6 ACC) to head back to the Final Four. Evanston was buzzing, hoping there was a chance the ’Cats could win the national championship for the first time since 2012.

It was nice while it lasted.

The ’Cats were beaten handily by the No. 3 Syracuse Orange (17-4, 8-2 ACC) 21-13 Friday afternoon in the NCAA semifinal round. The ’Cats – who had scored an average of 20.60 goals per game this year – were brought to a halt by a grinding Syracuse defense, scoring their lowest total of the season in the most important game of the year.

Syracuse was led in their effort by junior attacker Meaghan Tyrrell, who scored five goals and notched three assists to total eight points, and first-year attacker Emma Ward, who recorded six points, with three goals and three assists. Sophomore midfielder Emma Tyrrell also notched five points, with three goals and two assists of her own.

The main story for the Orange, however, was graduate goalkeeper Asa Goldstock, who recorded 10 saves and allowed just 13 goals, buoying the team against the Wildcats’ deadly shots.

Northwestern was led in their effort by junior attacker Izzy Scane, who scored four goals to bring her total on the season to 98, and she dished three assists to bring her point total on the day to seven. Scane was the only Wildcat to notch more than five points, followed by graduate midfielder Sammy Mueller, who scored a goal and two assists to record three points. Players such as senior attacker Lauren Gilbert and sophomore attacker Erin Coykendall – who both had impressive season totals in goals and assists respectively – recorded just a point each.

While the ’Cats did open the scoring in the first minute on a nice goal by graduate attacker Lindsey McKone, it was all Syracuse to open the first half. The Orange went on a 10-2 run over the next 25 minutes, holding the ’Cats almost completely out of the offensive zone and running circles around the Northwestern defense enroute to a 10-4 halftime lead.

It was a dominant opening for the Orange, who led in all major categories to control the game early on, including shots on goal (17-9), ground balls (11-3) and, possibly most importantly, draw controls (9-5). What’s more, Syracuse was able to take advantage of critical opportunities, scoring six of their 10 goals off free positions given up by Northwestern mistakes.

With their backs against the wall, the ’Cats came into the second half desperate to score, and got some early points back with goals from Scane and Gilbert Unfortunately, the Tyrrells for Syracuse were matching their every shot, and with 21:25 to play in the second, the Orange were leading 14-6.

With the clock ticking away, the ’Cats finally woke up and went on a 6-1 scoring spree to bring themselves back within three. The team’s top offensive performers began clicking, with goals from Scane, Mueller and Coykendall adding with two more from sophomore midfielder Jane Hansen. Suddenly, it felt like the momentum was back in the Wildcats’ favor. With 7:27 to play, the ’Cats trailed just 15-12.

Of course, we know how this story ends: the Wildcats’ offense went deathly cold again, and the Orange was content to score at will, finishing the game with a 6-1 run of their own to win 21-13 and march on to the NCAA finals.

While the entire game seemed like a bad dream, what really doomed the team was that scoring drought in the first half, which saw a failure to pick up possessions and an inability to convert when they had the ball. While the 'Cats were outscored 11-9 in the second half, there is much to be said about the team’s inconsistency, which proved to be too much to overcome.

Two days after the victory, Syracuse lost the National Championship 16-10 to No. 4 Boston College (18-3, 8-2 ACC), who had completed an upset of their own in the semifinal against No. 1 North Carolina (20-1, 9-0 ACC). In the victory, BC senior attacker Charlotte North shattered the NCAA record for goals in a single season (previously 100, set by Courtney Murphy in 2016) with 102. That's four more than Northwestern’s Izzy Scane, although North played five more games than Scane.

While it’s certainly not the end for Northwestern, there will be a lot of questions to answer for the ’Cats, who will be losing a lot of talent due to graduation. Among the possible losses are the team’s second-leading scorer Lauren Gilbert – who scored 66 goals this season – senior Jill Girardi and graduate Brennan Dwyer of the midfielding core – who helped post one of the top draw control percentages in the NCAA this year – and senior defender Ally Palermo, who was named First Team All-Big Ten this season.

It was a great season with great accolades, but the ending will always sting for Northwestern. Let’s hope they recover and return next year.

Northwestern senior midfielder Kate Paliotta hugs head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller during the Wildcats' senior day. The team will have big shoes to fill next season. Photo by Maren Kranking / North by Northwestern