Move over, Valentine’s Day. Sunday marks the start of the 2021 Northwestern women’s lacrosse season, and the Wildcats are preparing for another postseason run. Though the season itself will look a little different this year, with the Big Ten electing to play a conference-only schedule, there are high expectations once again for the Wildcats.
Kelly Amonte Hiller’s team comes into the year as the unanimous pick for the Big Ten women’s lacrosse preseason favorite, which is chosen by the conference coaches themselves. This vote puts the ‘Cats above Maryland, the last team to win the NCAA title in Division I women’s lacrosse.
As the sixth-ranked team in the US Lacrosse Preseason Poll, there is little doubt that Northwestern’s most successful program will continue to impress this year. After what was panning out to be a remarkable 2020 season was cut short due to the pandemic, the Wildcats should be ready to make the most of this year and dominate on the conference stage.
The portion of the 2020 season that actually took place looked good for the ‘Cats. Though its 4-3 record might not show it, the team showed serious potential and competed with some of the best teams in the nation. NU went through a ringer to start, kicking off the year with a lineup that included North Carolina, Notre Dame and Syracuse, who are ranked No. 1, 2 and 4, respectively, in the 2021 preseason poll.
What’s more, the team produced impressive levels of offense, recording the top scoring offense in the country with 21.57 goals per game. The combined talent and ability of Izzy Scane, Lindsey McKone and Lauren Gilbert meant that Northwestern’s attacking unit was unstoppable.
Northwestern graduated five players, the most significant being Liza Elder and Ivy Arlia. On the offensive side, Elder was a key attacker, ranking in the top five goal scorers for the ‘Cats last season. NU is also losing Sara Szynal and Meghan Duffy on offense.
On the other side of the field, the ‘Cats are not losing quite as large of a chunk, with Arlia being the main loss. She tied with Scane for second in caused turnovers (6) this past season. NU also graduated Carli Harpel on defense.
With an extra year of eligibility granted to players due to the pandemic, Northwestern is lucky enough that 2020 seniors like Lindsey McKone and Megan Kinna were able to return to the team this year. Both players helped lead the team and were top four in goals last year, while McKone also led all Wildcats in assists. They are two players to watch out for this season as they return as graduate transfers.
Northwestern is returning some of its most valuable players, especially within their impressive offense. The Wildcats also boast experience in the midfield and on the back end. Here are the top returners to watch this season:
Junior attacker Izzy Scane is beyond question the star of this Northwestern team. In 2020, she led the team in goals (29 in just seven games), and as a freshman she was second in goals (62), points (80) and draw controls. Her performance as a rookie earned her 2019 Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors as well as Big Ten Freshman of the Week seven times.
This year, Scane is again expected to head a strong attacking unit. Every opponent will undoubtedly tailor their game plan around stopping her. Expect a lot of hustle, behind-the-back goals and powerful, accurate shots from Scane.
Similarly, senior Lauren Gilbert is returning with high expectations. Gilbert was close behind Scane with 25 goals herself. In her final year at Northwestern, there is no doubt that Gilbert will continue to deliver and help make up for the loss of McKone and Elder.
Arguably the fastest attacker in Division I lacrosse, it’s hard to miss Gilbert streaming down the field.
The last of the team’s three key returners is senior Brennan Dwyer, the Wildcats’ draw specialist and lead player at center. Though Dwyer is not as much of a force offensively as Scane or Gilbert, she no doubt contributed to their prolific production, securing nearly 70 draw controls for Northwestern — and with that, crucial possession time.
Her performance in 2020 put her at third in the nation for draw controls per game, and the year prior, as a sophomore, she ranked fifth.
Senior Ally Palermo is expected to lead the defense. She led the Wildcats in both ground balls and caused turnovers last year and was named to Inside Lacrosse’s All-American First Team. In 2019, she earned All-Big Ten honors as well.
At first glance, Palermo’s 5-foot-1 stature might not look too intimidating, but she is a huge threat for opposing attackers and is sure to play a large role for the ‘Cats this year.
Northwestern welcomes six new players: five freshmen and one graduate transfer. The new class boasts four New Yorkers alongside players from New Jersey, Connecticut and Canada. It includes both finalists and champions from the U19 World Lacrosse Championship, as well as a number of players who have received All-American honors.
The most important newcomer, however, is Sammy Mueller. The graduate transfer is coming off an impressive career at the University of Virginia, where she totaled 165 goals, 50 assists, 171 ground balls, 84 caused turnovers and 204 draw controls in 69 games. She led her UVA in points as a senior and in goals as a sophomore. In her final year, she led the ACC in ground balls per game for the second straight season (!) and had a goal, ground ball, caused turnover and draw control in every game she played.
There is no doubt Mueller will have a huge impact this season. She has already been identified as one of three Wildcats on the Big Ten’s list of Preseason Players to Watch and was named one of Inside Lacrosse’s Preseason All Americans (second team).
2021 Season Outlook
With all of this in mind, Northwestern women’s lacrosse is ready to take on this season. Behind a strong cohort of McKone, Scane, Gilbert and Mueller, expect the ‘Cats to rival their 2019 squad that won the Big Ten and made the Final Four. Though last year’s offensive production will be hard to match, Amonte Hiller’s squad seems well-prepared to finish what they started.
NU kicks off its season Sunday against Ohio State at Ryan Fieldhouse. The Wildcats will then play 11 games through mid-April against John Hopkins, Penn State, Rutgers, Michigan and Maryland.