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Examining Erin Coykendall’s breakout season

Last but not least, the facilitator.

2021 NCAA Division I Women’s Lacrosse Championship Photo by Greg Fiume/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

The goal scorer, the draw specialist, and the facilitator.

In the wake of Izzy Scane undergoing season-ending knee surgery, it wasn’t just a single player that stepped up to replace the nation’s leading goal scorer. Rather, it was a trio of athletes, each known for their own individual strengths, who rose to the occasion to form the Wildcats’ “Big Three.”

We’ve already covered the breakout seasons of Lauren Gilbert, the speedy scorer who made a major leap in the passing game, and Jill Girardi, the wizard in the draw circle who rose among the nation’s leaders at earning possessions. Now, it’s time to wrap up the series as the Wildcats head into the NCAA Tournament with the squad’s leading assist-woman: Erin Coykendall.

Coykendall’s Office

Coykendall rose to the spotlight as a sophomore in 2021, leading the team, as well as the Big Ten, with 44 assists. The Spencerport, N.Y., native operated as the lead facilitator for a team that ended up being the highest scoring offense in NCAA history. She completed such a feat by setting up shop in a spot that many deemed her “office,” aka right behind the opposing goalie’s net. Coykendall’s success in her office has been unmatched, and her pinpoint accuracy has allowed her to consistently find cutting teammates for the assist.

Despite decreased assist numbers in 2022 (29 in 17 games), Coykendall’s office has been as strong as ever. The junior has tallied two or more assists in a game 10 times this season, headlined by her five assists against Stony Brook. She’s incredibly meticulous and careful with her stick, earning her the highest points-to-turnover ratio among the ‘Cats’ Big Three. This precision has played a large part in Northwestern’s success this season, and her ability to spread the ball out to other Wildcats has proved crucial.

Coykendall as a Scorer

Her assist numbers may have fallen, but this is largely due to the enormous bound that Coykendall has made shooting the ball. While still acting mainly as a pass-first player, the junior has become more aggressive as an attacker and has seen her goal totals increase from previous seasons. She still begins many possessions in her office, but now rather than solely looking for that dump-off over the top, Coykendall is more often facilitating a give-and-go to earn the goal herself. When the goalie predicts that the pass from behind the net is heading to a cutting Wildcat, Coykendall can use her versatility to sneak around the inside shoulder and catch the goalkeeper off guard.

Her role on a game-by-game basis, however, is not merely constrained to purely a scorer or a passer. In the aforementioned Stony Brook game, where she tallied five assists, Coykendall also notched a team-leading four goals. Additionally, in her matches versus Marquette and Penn State where she scored a season-high five times, the assist-master found her teammates for three and two scores, respectively.

The Bottom Line

In a way, Coykendall had the exact opposite progression that Lauren Gilbert did. She started as the lead passer, then developed her shooting abilities to become one of the top scoring options for Northwestern. As well as being incredibly accurate and serving as the team’s primary assister, Coykendall’s goal-scoring abilities have come into the picture this season, and she has used her facilitating ability to be able to create for herself in addition to others. After earning zeroes in both the scoring and assist columns against Rutgers in the Big Ten Tournament, Coykendall must find her groove again, along with the rest of her teammates, if the Wildcats want to go far in the NCAA Tournament.