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Northwestern lacrosse has completed their comeback

Despite a tough loss in the semifinals, the Wildcats achieved their best season in at least five years.

BALTIMORE — Northwestern’s season ended on Friday with a thorough defeat at the hands of Maryland. But despite the final result, the year marked a return to prominence for a team that earned its first ever Big Ten Championship and reached the national semifinals for the first time in five years.

With an overall record of 16-5, this past season was Northwestern’s best since 2013. The seven-time national champion Wildcats got over another recent roadblock in the aforementioned conference championship by beating Maryland for the first time in seven years.

Head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller, the Big Ten co-coach of the year, credited the increased success of this team and the important steps forward they took over the course of the season to their culture.

“It was very unselfish. The girls were extremely positive, and they learned how to believe in themselves,” Amonte Hiller said. “That win that we had in the Big Ten Championship was a big sign of our growth... we really did a tremendous job down the stretch of our season.”

The Wildcats began to pick up momentum towards the end of their season, beating two top ten teams in the second-to-last week just after nearly edging Maryland out while hosting the Terps in a regular-season clash.

Once the postseason started, Northwestern took it up another notch. The Wildcats annihilated Michigan in the Big Ten semifinals before handling Maryland by five goals. They remain the only team to take down the national champion Terrapins this season.

In the NCAA Tournament, NU fought past two more impressive squads in Syracuse and Notre Dame in order to advance to the semifinals. Their win over the Orange also served as revenge: the Wildcats had fallen to fifth-ranked Syracuse in overtime early on in the regular season.

With the gradual culture change that Amonte Hiller alluded to continuing to take root, and the Wildcats continuing to improve on the field, this season seemed to mark a turning point for the program. Northwestern is back in the national conversation, and though they will lose some of their key contributors, those players did their part to get them there.

First and foremost, Big Ten attacker of the year and Tewaaraton Award finalist Selena Lasota cemented herself as one of the best offensive players in the history of college lacrosse. Heads turned to the redshirt senior in her final season as she carried the scoring load while trying to bring the Wildcats back to the mountaintop.

Though they fell short of a national championship, Lasota was still able to lead her squad to the final four and a Big Ten championship, both career first for her. When asked about her role in Northwestern’s resurgence, however, she was quick to deflect the credit.

“I didn’t get this program back,” Lasota said through tears after the Maryland loss. “The team did.”

Despite the unfortunate ending, Lasota will certainly go down as a Wildcat legend. She is the all-time leading goal-scorer for Northwestern (and fifth across the sport’s history), tallying an astounding 282 over her sensational career. Her ability to shoot from distance and handle the ball so well has helped to introduce a different level of play to college lacrosse.

“It’s helped open the doors up for new styles of play and different ideas,” Amonte Hiller said on her star’s offensive prowess. “Selena definitely contributed to just opening eyes up. It’s kind of cool to see how our game has evolved in just the last several years with her being in the game.”

One of those that Lasota influenced, despite their vastly different play styles, was her teammate and Big Ten Freshman of the Year Izzy Scane. The playmaking midfielder quickly established her place in the midfield, contributing both offensively and in the draw circle with 80 points and 59 controls.

Her vast array of moves on the attack are what make Scane truly special. The Michigan native’s spin move is her go to, but she has a variety of ways to get to the goal and played perfectly off of Lasota by taking advantage of man-to-man opportunities when defenses keyed on the senior star.

Northwestern’s dynamic offense, led by Scane and Lasota but featuring significant contributions from juniors Lauren Gilbert and Lindsey McKone, couldn’t have been nearly as successful as it was without an overwhelming possession advantage. Credit that to sophomore draw specialist Brennan Dwyer.

Dwyer had big shoes to fill this season, and she did just that. Following in the footsteps of the school’s all-time leader in draw controls, Shelby Fredericks (now an assistant coach for the ‘Cats), pushed Dwyer to step up against some of the best draw players in the country. She ranked fifth nationally in draw controls per game (8.62) and snagged 181 draw controls total this season.

“Notre Dame, Syracuse, Boston College, Maryland, UNT, you name it. I think that when you do that... you can’t help but get better every day,” Amonte Hiller said. “Brennan has a tremendous demeanor. She never gets rattled.”

Though their offense made the headlines, Northwestern’s defense got the job done down the stretch in tour spots after starting the season slowly.A major reason for that success was senior goalkeeper Mallory Weisse.

Despite losing her starting spot last year to then-freshman Julie Krupnick, Weisse returned to appear in 14 games this season, starting in eight. During the postseason, she proved that she deserved the spot, recording double-digit saves in eight of Northwestern’s last nine games. Krupnick and highly-touted freshman Madison Doucette will be ready to duke it out next year for the starting spot, but Weisse gave the Wildcats the stability they needed in big moments.

“A lot of people would give up in that situation... Mallory did not. And not only did she not give up, but she had an incredible attitude all last year, when she did not have that spot,” Amonte Hiller said. “She continued to fight back throughout this season and gain the job back. And she was a big, big catalyst for our success down the stretch.”

As Northwestern looks toward next season, it is important to recognize some of the other major contributors the Wildcats will be losing. In addition to Lasota, senior attackers Claire Quinn, Liza Elder, and Emily Stein all are major parts of Northwestern’s offense. With the loss of so many attackers, other players like Gilbert and McKone — who are already huge contributors — will have to step up into even bigger roles.

Defensively, the Wildcats lose important pieces in Kim Harker and Nell Copeland. NU rebuilt on the back end coming into this year, and though they return plenty of talent (including Nell’s sisters Carson and Kate), the ‘Cats will have to plug a few more holes for next season.

With all of the senior leaders this team possessed, their loss in the semifinals certainly marked a missed opportunity. The offensive combination of Lasota and Scane will be hard to match for next year, and they lose plenty of important pieces all over the field.

But the Wildcats’ accomplishments this season will certainly fuel their confidence going into 2020, and, as always, they will add another impressive recruiting class. The immediate future still looks bright, but no matter what it holds, this season established that Northwestern lacrosse is still a force to be reckoned with.