Northwestern women’s lacrosse is in a strange spot. On the one hand, coach Kelly Amonte Hiller has led the powerhouse to the NCAA Tournament every year since 2004. The team is coming off a 15-6 season in which they advanced to the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals. They entered 2019 ranked No. 7 in the nation led by one of the nation’s best players in Selena Lasota and with one of the strongest recruiting classes in the country. In their first three non-conference games, they went 3-0 with two ranked wins and 63 goals. The new, state-of-the-art Ryan Fieldhouse provides a variety of new practice and workout facilities, and enables the Wildcats to play home games early in the season without freezing their butts off. Everything is peachy, right?
Not quite. The Northwestern dynasty of 2005-2012 yielded seven national championships in one of the most dominant stretches of extended success, ever. Along with the North Carolina women’s soccer team that won 21 titles in 31 seasons and the UConn women’s basketball team that has won 10 championships since 2000, Northwestern women’s lacrosse is certainly one of the top 3 dynasties in women’s NCAA history. That creates expectations that makes anything less than a championship feel like failure. And it’s been six years since Northwestern has hoisted a trophy – and not just in the NCAA Tournament. Since the ‘Cats joined the Big Ten in 2015, four seasons have come and gone without a conference championship. Meanwhile, Maryland – Amonte Hiller’s alma mater – has won the last three Big Ten titles and four NCAA championships since 2010, challenging the Wildcats’ status as the preeminent women’s lacrosse team of the 21st century.
So, what is the state of Northwestern lacrosse? It depends who you ask. Like true winners, Amonte Hiller and her players do not entertain questions about the end of the dynasty, instead focusing on the present.
“We have lofty goals for ourselves but we don’t really talk about those on a daily basis. We try to get better every day and really hone in on the details,” said Amonte Hiller.
The results thus far in the season can provide some hints. The Wildcats currently sit at 4-2 and have scored 20 or 21 goals in each of their wins. The overtime loss to No. 7 Syracuse was disappointing, but should not be interpreted as a sign that Northwestern can’t win big games. Syracuse is an elite defensive team that played well on their home field, and barely came out on top. Furthermore, the ‘Cats showed plenty of resilience in a wild comeback win over Duke, and the ability to bounce back from a loss with the dominating 20-6 win on the road over Canisius.
“We just have to have each other’s backs and tell each other we’re here for a reason,” senior midfielder Kim Harker said. “We’re the best in the country, and we just have to act like it and play like it.”
Furthermore, the team’s style of play is conducive to a deep playoff run. Northwestern has more depth than they have had the last couple of years, using their athleticism and physicality to wear down opponents.
“We have a lot of depth and we’re going to use that depth,” said Amonte Hiller.
The highly touted freshmen, especially Izzy Scane, have also made an impact. In the win over Canisius, five players had multiple goals, including freshman Elle Hansen. Even in the loss to Syracuse, Northwestern had 20 draw controls.
Ultimately, the upcoming slate against the sport's powerhouses will reveal this team’s true identity heading into Big Ten play. Northwestern lost 21-11 to No. 3 North Carolina on March 2, and faces No. 1 Boston College on March 9. Also on the slate for the remainder of the season are No. 2 Maryland, No. 8 Penn, and No. 11 Penn State. If No. 9 Northwestern can get at least three wins in these four remaining high-profile matchups, it would not be surprising to see them return to hoisting trophies come May.