Was it the start of the season that Kelly Amonte Hiller’s squad had hoped for? Almost certainly not. In the abridged campaign that featured Amonte Hiller’s 300th career win in a victory over Stanford, NU registered ranked wins over Duke and the Cardinal but dropped three top-ten matchups by a combined nine goals. Just as the ‘Cats got ready to turn the page and head on an important road trip, their season came to an abrupt end.
After the departure of Tewaaraton Award Finalist Selena Lasota, there was some uncertainty as to whom would power the offense and if the attack would be as potent. That question was addressed in the first weekend of play, when Northwestern scored 54 goals in two games.
Izzy Scane, 2019 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, took the reins to the tune of 29 goals in just seven games. Lauren Gilbert emerged as another viable scoring threat, scoring 25 times, while Lindsey McKone found the back of the net on 18 occasions. NU’s offensive game plan revolved around these three, as they combined to score nearly half of the team’s goals.
McKone was the ‘point guard’ of the group, facilitating a lot of the offense from behind the net. Gilbert added a unique combination of agility and scoring ability that allowed her to get to the net with ease. And Scane’s cannon was simply unmatched.
Much of Northwestern’s strategy seemed to be focused on Brennan Dwyer winning the draw control — which she did quite often, 69 times — before running and finding a teammate for a quick shot. If this failed, the ball usually went to McKone behind the net, where she would call a play for Gilbert to cut to the goal or Scane to receive a screen and shoot.
This game plan worked in several contests but often wasn’t sufficient to beat elite teams. The Wildcats’ offense was very reliant on the big three and often struggled to make anything happen without them.
Defensively, struggles arose against top-quality competition as well. Ally Palermo, Carson Copeland, Kate Copeland, and Ivy Arlia had their moments, but also had plenty of trouble containing opposing offenses at times, giving up quality chances in tough spots.
Taking the above and combining it with goaltender Julie Krupnick’s struggles is not a recipe for success. Compared to a .411 personal save percentage and .422 overall staff save percentage in 2019, this year saw a significant drop in those categories.
Krupnick turned in a .325 save percentage, and after four games her her coach gave her the hook. After splitting even time in those opening contests, Madison Doucette slid into the starting role. Despite facing two top ten teams, her final save percentage sat at just under .400.
It took time for Doucette, previously an inexperienced sophomore, to grow in her role, and Northwestern found itself giving up way too many easy goals in the early going. Things appeared to be trending upwards until the NU defense and goalkeeping, understandably, fell apart in the second half against #1 UNC.
This is a young team. Scane is only a sophomore. Erin Coykendall, Eve Hritzuk and Jane Hansen are all first years who have shown tons of promise on the offensive end. Not only that, the shortened season allows the ‘Cats to potentially retain Lindsey McKone for another year, keeping the three-headed monster alive. With a strong veteran group leading the way, this team should yet again be in the thick of things in 2021.
There are some kinks that need to be worked out in the elongated offseason. Most glaring is the defense. Some weak spots that were exposed by UNC, ND and Syracuse were coverage behind the net and allowing cuts towards the goal. The ‘Cats will have to rework their defensive game plan in the offseason to give their goalies a chance.
This leads to the next offseason goal: build Madison Doucette’s confidence. After Julie Krupnick had a rough start to the season, Doucette came in and played well. With the potential to have a full offseason of training with one of the best offenses in the country, the talented sophomore should be named the clear starter so that she can work with the first team and become more confident in net.
If the Wildcats can shore up the defense and continue to develop a multitude of offensive options, the opportunity to recuperate over an extended offseason could be a blessing in disguise in some ways. Obviously, you never want to lose a season, but for Northwestern, the future looks brighter than the present, and there is certainly plenty to build towards.