In the long history of Northwestern sports, there may be no more successful team than the women’s lacrosse team, which has accounted for seven of the school’s eight national championships and has been a regular presence in the postseason since 2004. While it’s been nine years since the team’s last championship, the ’Cats are consistently a source of buzz in Evanston, especially as the season goes on.
This year, the buzz has reached an astronomical level, as Northwestern (11-0 B1G) went undefeated in the regular season and clinched the regular season Big Ten title – their first since 2013 – and have already set up a fantastic postseason. In the last two games of the regular season, Northwestern faced Ohio State (4-8 B1G) and Michigan (3-6 B1G), winning both 21-14 and 19-10, respectively.
On April 8, the ’Cats clawed their way back from a halftime deficit to stay undefeated and completely dominate the Ohio State Buckeyes, 21-14. The game opened with a stellar showing from junior attacker Izzy Scane. Scane, who currently leads the NCAA in goals per game with 6.36 and in total goals with 70, went on an absolute tear in the first half, scoring Northwestern's first four goals to open the game for the ’Cats, and helping build a 5-1 lead early. Ohio State, however, went on a run of their own, scoring four straight goals to go into halftime leading 9-8. It was the first time Northwestern trailed at halftime all season.
Needing a spark, Scane instead began working the Ohio State defense with stellar assists, with a fantastic play to set up first-year attacker Leah Holmes to get the ’Cats back on the scoresheet. The goal kick-started a 9-0 run for Northwestern, which allowed them to quickly run away from the Buckeyes, outscoring the Buckeyes 13-5 in the second half, and winning the game 21-14.
Northwestern was led in their offensive effort by Scane, who totaled eight goals and three assists to lead all players with 11 points, and graduate midfielder Sammy Mueller, who recorded four goals and three assists. Senior attacker Lauren Gilbert also turned in a six-point effort, with four goals and two assists, and sophomore attacker Erin Coykendall contributed with five points: two goals, three assists.
From a defensive perspective, Northwestern held its own with aggressive play. The Wildcats won the ground ball battle 32-21, caused more turnovers than the Buckeyes, and had immense success clearing the ball while holding Ohio State to 21 clears on 30 attempts. In addition, Northwestern was successful at the face off as they beat out Ohio State 21-16.
After waiting 10 days to play again, the ’Cats returned to Northwestern's Martin Stadium on April 18 for their senior day matchup against Michigan. Friends and family – along with a few football players – joined them in the stands to cheer them on to a 19-10 win over the Wolverines.
The ’Cats were led in their efforts by – who else – Izzy Scane, who recorded a team-high seven points and six goals, for an astounding 70 on the year. For context, the current NCAA record for goals in a season is held by Maryland’s Jen Adams, who scored 148 goals in 22 games in 2001. Scane has scored nearly half that in just 11 games, an astounding effort for the junior attacker. Also contributing to the ’Cats' victory: Gilbert, who recorded three goals and two assists, and junior goalie Madison Doucette, who made seven saves.
Michigan was led in their effort by graduate midfielder Molly Garrett, who scored six of the 10 Wolverine goals, and sophomore goalie Mariah Sweeney, who made 14 saves.
The game started with a bang for Northwestern, who came out swinging with five straight goals over the first five minutes, highlighting their unselfish play, as a different Wildcat scored each of the five goals. After the scoring streak settled down, Northwestern continued to outpace Michigan in all aspects, recording 18 shots on goal to Michigan’s 8, and outdueling the Wolverines on the draw, 10-4. At the end of the first, Northwestern led 9-4.
The second half was more of the same from both sides, as Northwestern outscored Michigan 10-6 in the second to win the game 19-10. Scane recorded four second half goals to push her total to six for the game and the aforementioned 70 on the year. The ’Cats continued to dominate the Wolverines, with 15 second-half shots on goal to the Wolverines’ 10, and a stunning 25 overall to Michigan’s 11.
With the victory, the ’Cats completed their first perfect regular season since 2009 and will now look to continue their dominance in the seven-team Big Ten Tournament on April 30. With their dominance in the regular season, Northwestern has earned an automatic bid to the semifinals, and will look to add another conference trophy to their resume before heading to the NCAA tournament in May. With a dynamic scorer in Scane and fantastic supporting players in Mueller, Coykendall and Gilbert, this might be the year the nine-year championship drought is finally shattered.
Let’s hope, at least.