EVANSTON, IL — Despite being the largest home crowd Northwestern had received all season, the Wildcat faithful were strangely quiet while the visiting fans of their opponents brought almost all the energy.
Then Northwestern did what No. 2 overall seeds and undefeated conference champions do — they woke up, they dominated and the fans got into it as the ‘Cats cruised to a 22-10 victory over Duke and clinched their spot in the 2021 NCAA Women’s Lacrosse Final Four.
Just as Denver had done the week prior, Duke got on the board first with a goal from Gabby Rosenzweig, her 26th on the season, and NU struggled to respond to that first punch. The offense was further hurt when the ‘Cats’ superstar and leading goal-scorer Izzy Scane was sent to the penalty, and another goal was tacked on by the Devils’ Olivia Carner minutes later to put Northwestern in an early 2-0 hole.
A score from NU’s Jane Hansen finally stemmed the surge from Duke for a bit, but the Blue Devils soon returned to their scoring ways. Carner in particular continued to be a huge problem for Northwestern, recording two more scored goals within the game’s first 11 minutes, and finishing the game with five total. By the 18:50 minute mark of the first half, the ‘Cats were nearing panic mode, down 6-1 and reeling as the game’s first media timeout hit, with Duke absolutely dominating the game’s action.
That timeout proved to be the turning point in the match, as Northwestern ripped off a 6-1 run of their own over the next 10 minutes of the first half to tie the game at seven-all. The scoring stretch was balanced from the ‘Cats, headlined by two goals each from Lauren Gilbert and Leah Holmes, and another goal with eight minutes remaining in the period from Sammy Mueller gave Northwestern its first lead of the game.
The ‘Cats took control due to their draw control dominance, winning 15 DC’s in the first half compared to only six won by Duke, and for the game they finished with a 21-13 edge in that statistical battle. In spite of all their early struggles, Northwestern lead 12-8 by halftime and held all the momentum over the Blue Devils.
The same Northwestern team that was floundering early on against Duke was barely recognizable to start the second half, as NU turned their play up a couple more notches. The two teams traded goals to start the period before the ‘Cats ripped off four straight goals and seven of the next eight. Scane and Gilbert were the stars of the show, scoring five and six goals and upping their season totals to 94 and 65, respectively.
The rest of the game was merely window dressing with the outcome never in doubt and Northwestern was able to celebrate the 22-10 win and their 12th Final Four in school history. The ‘Cats now head to Maryland for the national semifinal on Friday and will face the winner of the Syracuse-Florida quarterfinal with a trip to the national championship on the line.
UPDATE: Syracuse defeated Florida 17-11 and will now be Northwestern’s opponent in the Final Four matchup.