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Lacrosse: NU splits season openers, but show offensive stars ready to shine

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After falling to the defending champs to start, the ‘Cats bounced back with a home dub.

John Konstantaras

Northwestern lacrosse fans knew that it would be hard for the team to have the same offensive prowess it has possessed for the last several seasons without senior attacker Izzy Scane, but the first two games of the season have proven that the ‘Cats are ready for the challenge.

While they lost on opening day to No. 1 Boston College 18-9, the game gave them a better understanding of who their new offensive leaders would be in the absence of Scane, who announced in December that she would miss the entire season with an injury. The No. 4 Wildcats got off to a shaky start, trailing 6-1 after their first quarter of play in Chestnut Hill, but were able to steady themselves with the help of an unlikely source. Graduate student Jill Girardi, who is known mostly for her dominance in the draw circle, scored all of NU’s first four goals — a new career-high — to bring the score to bring NU within three with 3:30 left in the first half before the Eagles added another to push their lead to 8-4 at the break.

The reigning national champions remained ultimately proved themselves too tough a task for the Wildcats’ first game of the season and only their second non-conference regular season contest since 2020. Tewaraaton winner Charlotte North tallied seven goals, while Lauren Gilbert, Northwestern’s second-leading scorer last season, and team leaders Erin Coykendall and Carleigh Mahoney all only tallied one score apiece to leave the final score at 18-9 in favor of the hosts.

All in all, the Eagles were stronger on both ends of the field, but there was still one definite positive for Northwestern: senior goalkeeper Madison Doucette set a new career-high with 12 saves in the net.

The ‘Cats fell from No. 4 to No. 5 in the national rankings on Monday morning, but when they returned to Ryan Fieldhouse to face Marquette that night, a switch flipped, as they returned to their high-scoring ways, beating the Golden Eagles 24-13. Never trailing its guests opponents, NU’s expected scorers lit up the scoreboard. The Tewaaraton Watch List member Gilbert exploded for six goals after only tallying one against BC, while Coykendall and sophomore Leah Holmes — two players predicted to to make more of a splash with Scane unavailable — each found twine five times.

The five goals were a career-high for Holmes, but are likely just the start of a memorable campaign for the New York native, who was a two-time Big Ten Freshman of the Week last season. Oh, and one of her scores just happened to be this behind-the-back highlight:

Kelly Amonte Hiller rotated some new faces in and out of the draw circle during NU’s home opener. Newcomers Samantha Smith and Samantha White tallied five and four draw controls, but Marquette did outscore the ‘Cats on the draw, 22-19. The Golden Eagles’ Leigh Steiner had three goals and their Kyra LaMotte added two, but they couldn’t keep pace with the unstoppable offensive effort from the Wildcats that fans are used to seeing.

While losing a player who led the nation in scoring presents a formidable obstacle for Northwestern to overcome, the first two games this season reflect its unwavering will to win. It may still be a work in progress, but seeing Gilbert, Coykendall and Holmes record 5+ goals each against Marquette is a sure sign that this team will continue to put up a fight this season, no matter the opponent.

The ‘Cats return to play at home again Sunday against Arizona State, where they will hold their 2021 Big Ten Championship ring ceremony. They’ll take on Notre Dame on the road the following Wednesday.