The wind is blowing strong over Martin Stadium, the lakefront is just beginning to become bitterly cold on a consistent basis, and the inside of Ryan Fieldhouse is looking better and better every day. Today marks the start of the 2020 women’s lacrosse season.
Northwestern’s most decorated and successful program is coming off of one of their best seasons since their magical run of seven national championships in eight years, and though they’ve lost some important contributors, this team seems ready to follow up on some of that magic.
With a #3 preseason ranking (per both the Inside Lacrosse preseason poll and the IWLCA Coaches preseason poll), this iteration of Wildcat lacrosse has big expectations. And they certainly appear ready to deliver on them.
Before we get into that, though, let’s go through last year’s high points.
The 2019 season was a year of redemption for head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller and her players — the team returned to the Final Four for the first time since 2014 (which was their last appearance in what had been a 10-year run in the semifinals) and won their first ever Big Ten title.
Northwestern topped Maryland for the first time since 2012 in order to secure the conference championship. The Terps, who were undefeated at the time, went on to win the national championship later that May, meaning the Wildcats were the only team to upend them all year.
During the regular season, the ‘Cats beat multiple top ten teams, and their overall record of 16-5 was their best since 2013.
Northwestern graduated ten seniors, the most important of them being star attacker Selena Lasota, a Tewaaraton Award finalist and the 2019 Big Ten attacker of the year. Lasota’s impact on NU’s program is unmatched: she leads the program in both career goals (287) and goals scored in a single NCAA Tournament game (9), and contributed 85 goals and 19 assists in the 2019 season. She was also the fastest player in program history to hit the 100-goal mark — it took her just 35 games.
On top of Lasota, NU will also be missing Claire Quinn, Liza Elder, and Emily Stein on offense. Luckily, the Wildcats have a strong lineup of attackers that can help fill those holes. Sophomore midfielder Izzy Scane was Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2019, and the combination of her alongside junior Lauren Gilbert and senior Lindsey McKone puts the team in a decent position to fill in for Lasota and co.
Defensively, Northwestern is not losing quite as many contributors, but they will still be missing three important players in Kim Harker, Nell Copeland and goalkeeper Mallory Weisse. Redshirt junior goalkeeper Julie Krupnick, who recorded 97 saves last season, seems likely to step back in and potentially hold down the unit.
The ‘Cats boast a 12-person freshman class, the most notable of them being Jane Hansen. Hansen was ranked No. 7 by Inside Lacrosse and was a two-time US Lacrosse HS All-American. She also appeared on US Lacrosse National Tournament Team twice.
Another recruit of note is Dylan Amonte: the Massachusetts native, an attacker, was ranked 29th in her class. Perhaps more notably, though, she is Kelly Amonte Hiller’s niece.
On the whole, the incoming class includes six midfielders, five attackers, and one goalkeeper.
2020 Season Outlook
Going into the 2020 season, Northwestern has their highest preseason ranking since 2013, when they were fresh off a national championship. Suffice it to say that expectations are high.
The Wildcats will face a tough schedule right off the bat. Within their first month of action, NU will face numerous opponents that are ranked in the top 25 of the Coaches Poll, including Duke (21), Syracuse (4), Notre Dame (7) and North Carolina (2, 1 per Inside Lacrosse).
As for the starting lineup, junior Brennan Dwyer will undoubtedly anchor the draw circle. As a sophomore last season, she led the team with 181 draw controls, ranking 5th in the NCAA. Scane is likely to lead the attack even as she helps in the draw circle and the midfield in general — as one of just two freshmen on the Tewaaraton watch list last year, she helped power the Northwestern offense and was second only behind Lasota in both goals (62) and points (80).
Right behind her are Lauren Gilbert, who will help carry the scoring loss, and Lindsey McKone, who led the ‘Cats in assists last year as a do-it-all talent when it comes to goal creation. The junior and senior (respectively) rounded out Northwestern’s impressive top four in points last season, with McKone tallying 45 goals and 28 assists while Gilbert managed 52 scores and 13 helpers of her own.
On the defensive side, Krupnick should not struggle to hold her own, as she started in 12 games last year and has valuable experience in goal. Additionally, Ally Palermo and the younger Copelands, Kate and Carson, each return solid defensive experience. When it comes to the midfield, the transition ability of Jill Girard and Taylor Pinion will be key as Megan Kinna helps stabilize things.
Only time will tell, but things are looking bright for the ‘Cats as they head into 2020. Though they will face some of the toughest teams in the country, they are coming off a historic season and have plenty of talent and experience to carry them to the same success.
The season starts tonight at Ryan Fieldhouse at 5 p.m. (updated!) against Detroit Mercy, before Northwestern travels to take on #21 Duke on Sunday morning.