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Despite a disappointing end, Northwestern is proud of its 2021 season

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Appreciating a team that thrived during a year of adversity.

NCAA Lacrosse: Division I Women’s Lacrosse Championship Mitchell Layton-USA TODAY Sports

As Northwestern Women’s Lacrosse headed to Towson, Maryland, this past weekend, they expected to bring home a title. But after a 15-game stretch during which they outclassed each and all of their opponents, the ‘Cats fell quite short, losing to No. 3 Syracuse 21-13 in the national semifinal.

The ‘Cats lead the nation in offense by a wide margin, averaging 20.6 goals entering the mach, but Syracuse was more than ready to handle their high-powered attack. Graduate Student Lindsey McKone came out hot, scoring the opening goal less than a minute into the game, but Syracuse soon took the lead on a 5-1 scoring run. The ‘Cats dealt with foul trouble from the very beginning of the game, allowing the Orange to have an early advantage. While they were able to come within three goals late in the second half, they simply could not lift their offense to their usual standard of greatness.

“You can’t play [woman down] the whole game and then not win any draw controls,” Head Coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said after the loss. “It stinks to be in that situation, but that’s sports.”

When reflecting on the season overall, given all the hardships the team faced, it remains extremely impressive for Northwestern to have come this far. This COVID-shortened, conference-only season presented challenges that the team handled with incredible grace and discipline.

“We didn’t have a case of COVID the whole year,” Hiller said. “I think it just speaks to the discipline and the commitment to what they were trying to achieve today, and it’s just unfortunate that things didn’t go our way.”

Given that the 2020 season granted all spring sport athletes the chance to have an extra season of eligibility, it is not yet known what ‘Cats fans can expect in terms of returning seniors from this past season. However, for McKone and University of Virginia Graduate transfer Sammy Mueller, this season was their last.

“We’re losing a couple of amazing players and people,” said Junior Attacker Izzy Scane, who finished the season with 98 goals, now the third highest single-season mark in NCAA history. “We’re definitely going to feel the loss, personnel-wise, but we do have a pretty young team this year, and I think next year we’ll definitely be back swinging.”

A lot of Northwestern’s success in the upcoming season will be determined by the decisions of other seniors such as Lauren Gilbert, Brennan Dwyer and Jill Girardi. Returning any of those three and their vast production on the field would go a long way toward NU building upon this great year.

Northwestern may have entered the game averaging a nation-best 20.6 goals per game, but it was the Orange defense that stole the show. Syracuse held the ‘Cats to only 13 goals, their fewest of the season by far. The back line of blue jerseys was extremely aggressive, and Northwestern’s 10 yellow cards was a staggering blow to the team’s offense, especially given that Gilbert, McKone, and Girardi were given these penalties, major players on the offense and on draw controls.

“I think [our offense] was playing a little scared, knowing that’s what their defense was going to do.” said Scane. “I think if we had played completely “our game”, it would have been a little different.”

All in all, the ‘Cats were able to achieve a stellar 15-1 (15-0 B1G) season, dealing with every hurdle that was thrown their way leading up to their semifinal in Maryland. While it was not the outcome the team wanted, fans can rest assured, as one would expect to see much more of this dominant offense the next year with Scane on the field and Hiller on the sidelines.

“Obviously it’s not the outcome we were looking for, but I’m super, super proud of our team and just the adversity we went through and the grace with which we handled it,” said Scane. “I think every single person on our team deserves to be praised for how we handled the whole situation. Sometimes things don’t pan out how you’re hoping they would, but I think we did a lot and all grew as people, [and that] we’ll definitely take forward years after.”