Understatement of the year: Northwestern lacrosse is pretty good.
The lacrosse Wildcats are coming off of a national championship-winning season. That’s so nice, I’ll say it twice: for the eighth time in school history, they’re national champs.
🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆 pic.twitter.com/Ka40mwGvSC— Northwestern Lax (@NULax) May 28, 2023
Being the champs means there’s a target on their back with everyone vying to be on the summit. NU owns the mountain for now, but the question on everyone’s mind is, “Can they do it again?”
The Wildcats are returning a majority of their championship-winning team. Attacker Hailey Rhatigan and midfielder Elle Hansen are the only key losses. Last year, Rhatigan finished as the team’s second-leading scorer with 62 goals, despite missing several games due to injury. Hansen finished the season with 39 points (goals and assists), tied for fifth-best on the team.
Almost everyone will be back for the 2024 season. The most important person on that list of returners is NU lacrosse’s all-time leading scorer, sixth-year attacker Izzy Scane. The Preseason Player and Attacker of the Year finished last season as the Tewaaraton Winner, given to the best lacrosse player in the country. The Scane Train will be the engine that drives the Wildcat offense as she tries to hold onto the title of best scorer on the team – and in the country.
Sparks are flying' ❤️🔥 pic.twitter.com/7nj3tUcqEi— Northwestern Lax (@NULax) January 28, 2024
Graduate attacker Erin Coykendall was NU’s third-leading scorer last season with 58 goals, and the team leader in assists. For the second year in a row, she finished fifth in assists and third in points nationally. Year in and year out, she’s proven that she knows how to find the open woman and has added goal-scoring to her repertoire over the past two seasons.
Coming off of Big Ten Rookie of the Year honors, second-year attacker Madison Taylor — the team’s fourth-leading scorer with 53 goals — will be eager to one-up her own accomplishments from last year. Are you sensing a theme here? The Wildcats’ top four scorers all finished within the top 50 goal scorers in the nation and are returning three of their high-production attackers, who combined for 210 goals last season.
Third-year defender Sammy White was a menace on defense, securing a team-leading 42 ground balls and causing 31 turnovers, another team-high. She tacked on 68 draw controls, trailing only Samantha Smith, a third-year midfielder.
Sixth-year goalkeeper Molly Laliberty finished last season with 159 saves and allowed only 8.60 goals per game, good for 24th and eighth in the nation, respectively. She was electric in the circle, bringing high energy to the team and excellent keeper skills.
Ever get the impression Molly Laliberty is having the time of her life? Here she is in her first D1 national championship game with the final outcome still long from being decided.— wlaxnut (@wlaxnut) December 18, 2023
You nervous, Mol?
Me? Nah. La la la la la la... pic.twitter.com/6MxcsYlvYn
The preseason #1 Wildcats will open with an opportunity to avenge their only loss of last season when #3 Syracuse comes to town on Feb. 10. Visits to #10 Notre Dame, #2 Boston College and unranked Colorado, along with a home matchup versus #20 Marquette, comprise a gauntlet of an opening month.
The schedule doesn’t ease up, with six more preseason top-25 matchups on the slate, the most difficult being a trip to Chapel Hill to take on #5 North Carolina. Colorado and Central Michigan are the only teams that didn’t face NU last year; outside of Syracuse, every other game will be a chance for revenge for the opposition.
Will they repeat?
Short answer: likely, yes. They have the pieces to run it back.
Long answer: with the returning high-powered offense, coupled with the exciting Laliberty in goal and defensive stalwart White on the backend, this team is built to repeat. However, the challenging schedule will test them. If they can secure some clutch wins against the many ranked opponents they will play, the 'Cats can beat anyone.
It’s not an understatement to say this is the best team in the country — the pollsters agree. Now, the ’Cats have to go out and prove it.
February, we're ready for you 😈 pic.twitter.com/XdC2SOpaRu— Northwestern Lax (@NULax) February 1, 2024
Thumbnail by AJ Anderson/North by Northwestern