On February 12, Northwestern’s lacrosse team will begin what NU fans hope will be a quest to the team’s eighth national title. After falling short in the Final Four against Syracuse in May, the ‘Cats have been preparing hard in the offseason to face their first regular season non-conference opponents since their pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign.
The unanimous preseason Big Ten women’s lacrosse favorites will start their season with a bang against the defending NCAA champion Boston College Eagles in Chestnut Hill on Saturday. Ranked No. 4 nationally in the preseason Nike/USA Lacrosse poll, the Wildcats will face a wholly more challenging set of regular season opponents in 2022 after only facing Big Ten teams in the 2021 season due to conference COVID adaptations. They’ll face the preseason-ranked No. 2, 3, 4, and 5 teams — two of which were also in last year’s Final Four — after facing BC, who comes in at No. 1.
Northwestern was absolutely dominant throughout the 2021 season, going undefeated throughout their conference-only regular season slate before knocking off Rutgers and Maryland in the conference playoff to win their first combined B1G regular season and tournament championships. The ‘Cats were bolstered by the top-scoring offense in all of NCAA Division I, averaging 20.12 goals per game.
They eased through the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, beating Denver 19-4 and No. 7 Duke 22-10 before making it to Towson. There, they met Syracuse in the national semifinal. The Orange stifled the Wildcats’ mighty offense, aided in large part by a stunning performance from their goalkeeper Asa Goldstock. While NU fought back from an eight-goal deficit to make it a three-goal game late, they ultimately fell, 21-13, ending their season.
Perhaps the biggest blow to Northwestern’s offense is the loss of Big Ten Attacker of the Year and Tewaaraton Finalist Izzy Scane, who was set to return for her senior season but announced in early December that she’d be miss the season due to an ACL injury. Scane’s injury is a substantial one for the ‘Cats, as she led the nation in scoring in 2021 with 6.12 goals per game and a total of 98 goals on the season.
Graduate students Lindsey McKone and Sammy Mueller are also significant losses to the team. McKone tallied 27 goals and was a significant help on the draw control with 40, while Mueller scored 28 goals, good for third-best on the team.
Graduating seniors Taylor Pinzone and Megan Gordon chose to use their extra year of eligibility elsewhere, with Pinzone heading to Arizona State and Gordon shipping off to Virginia.
Luckily for the ‘Cats, there are plenty of high-scoring teammates to step up in Scane’s absence, as well as newcomers with star power.
Northwestern fans are sure to rejoice in the returning of Lauren Gilbert for a fifth year. Gilbert scored 66 goals last season, good enough for second best on the team after Scane. She also tallied 65 draw controls and 32 turnovers and is considered one of the fastest players in the Big Ten.
Gilbert was named the preseason Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year by Inside Lacrosse. She also earned preseason First Team All-American honors from USA Lacrosse Magazine and will likely take over Northwestern’s top scoring spot this season.
Graduate student Ally Palermo is back for the ‘Cats, leading the defense again after she had 30 ground balls last season. She was named the preseason Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year by Inside Lacrosse as well as a preseason First Team All-American spot from USA Lacrosse Magazine. She was a First Team All-Big Ten selection last season.
The ‘Girardi Party’ is back on in the midfield after she tallied 69 draw controls and a team-best 19 turnovers created last year.
One of Girardi’s top skills comes on the draw control. She recorded 12 won draws in one game two separate times last season.
Last but certainly not least of the team’s four returning graduate students is Brennan Dwyer. Dwyer is NU’s draw control specialist; she led the team with 89 draw controls and earned Second Team All Big-Ten honors last year. Additionally, Dwyer holds the single-season draw control record for Northwestern with 181. All in all, she’s a huge returning asset for the ‘Cats.
These four returning players for the ‘Cats make up the heart and soul of the defense, and have two Final Four appearances under their belts coming into the 2022 season.
Another player we can expect to step up on the offense is junior Erin Coykendall. She tallied 21 goals last season and a team-best 44 assists. She can also be aggressive on the defensive end, as she forced 20 turnovers.
Coykendall is posed for a breakout season after turning it up a notch her sophomore year, especially with the absence of Scane on the attacker side.
Northwestern welcomes eight first-year players this season, headlined by former All-American recruits Emerson Bohlig, Samantha Smith and Samantha White.
On top of the Wildcats’ stacked recruiting class, sophomore Leah Holmes will be expected to fill a bigger role after earning two Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors last season. She scored 21 goals on the season, appearing in all 16 games last season.
While the ‘Cats are losing three of their four top scorers this season in Mueller, McKone and Scane, the team remains strong up and down the roster and doesn’t have any glaring holes. They have demonstrated immense resilience throughout the past two seasons, so don’t expect them to shy away from a challenge.
Their schedule boasts a tough first half, featuring four top 10 matchups through early March. As temperatures warm, the schedule will ease up a bit, which could enable the Wildcats to go on a run. With fans allowed back to see Northwestern’s winningest team, a record number of women’s lacrosse games will also be broadcast on ESPN, including Northwestern’s marquee matchup at North Carolina on March 6.
The ‘Cats will likely play their first stretch of home games inside in the Ryan Fieldhouse, the first of which will be played just five days from now on February 14 against Marquette.