Northwestern Lacrosse was due for a strong win after falling to No. 8 Maryland in the regular-season finale and No. 13 Rutgers in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament.
Everything worked in the No. 4 seeded ‘Cats favor when faced the Central Michigan Chippewas on a beautiful Friday at Martin Stadium.
While CMU was able to tie it at three apiece with five minutes to go in the first quarter, the scoring streaks Northwestern was accustomed to earlier this season were on full display.
The ‘Cats, backed by Erin Coykendall and Jill Girardi hat tricks, went on a 7-0 run heading into the second half. By the whistle, Northwestern led 15-4, and the Chippewas couldn’t quite stifle Kelly Amonte-Hiller’s offense in their first-ever NCAA tournament appearance.
The ‘Cats also had an outstanding day in the draw circle, outscoring CMU 22-9. Girardi tallied eight while Lauren Gilbert added seven and Brennan Dwyer chipped in four.
With a final score of 22-7, this opening round of the NCAA tournament also marked the first game since senior day against Johns Hopkins in which multiple Wildcats scored more than one goal. This is likely not a coincidence that it was also the first game Northwestern had played on its home turf since that Hopkins game.
“We’re the type of team that once we get [going], we’re really rolling,” Gilbert said to reporters postgame. “We hadn’t won in a few weeks, so it was really important to get a win under our belt.”
Given that Northwestern was granted the fourth seed, Martin Stadium also hosted a neutral-site matchup between Notre Dame and Michigan on Friday night. After having faced and beaten both teams already this year, the ‘Cats faced a rematch in the eventual winner, Michigan, come the Sweet 16.
On a foggy Sunday, Northwestern was not going to make the same mistake they did against Rutgers in the conference tournament — losing in the rematch.
It’s no secret that the ‘Cats have struggled with starting strong offensively, but after such a dominant showing against CMU, they were ready to rumble. NU came out on a staggering 5-0 run in the first quarter, highlighted by Gilbert’s opening goal after grabbing the first draw control and scoring in, wait for it...TWELVE. SECONDS.
LAUREN GILBERT.— USA Lacrosse Magazine (@USALacrosseMag) May 15, 2022
- A speeding bullet
- The roadrunner
- A cheetah
- Everyone on the field
What we miss? pic.twitter.com/BU4vcIurBl
While the Michigan fronts, highlighted by Goalkeeper Arielle Weissman and attacker Jill Smith, put on a stellar fight back, cutting it to a one-goal lead in the third quarter, Northwestern hung on to win the game 15-12.
Another major impact that led to Northwestern’s early lead and eventual win was, yet again, its dominance in the draw circle. The ‘Cats outscored Michigan 23-6 on the draw, and Amonte-Hiller’s seamless rotation between Girardi and Dwyer makes them hard to stop, especially coupled with their offense.
These opening round games pushed Northwestern into first place nationally in draw controls per game with 18.84. Alongside Girardi’s 11 draw controls against UM, she tallied two goals and an assist while Gilbert had four goals, and Dwyer added two.
Another major piece of improvement this weekend was Northwestern’s much-improved ball movement on the offensive end, which led to eight different goal scorers on Sunday and 11 on Friday.
This will be Northwestern’s fourth-straight NCAA Quarterfinals appearance — the last time they didn’t advance was in 2018 when the now-fifth year graduate students were first-years.
And, who else will they face but No. 5 Syracuse, once again on home turf. This should be a good one on Thursday, as it was back in March at Ryan Fieldhouse. For those who don’t recall, the Orange spoiled Northwestern’s perfect 2021 campaign, dealing the ‘Cats a loss in Towson in the NCAA semifinals. NU avenged that back in March thanks to a Gilbert overtime goal.
You won’t want to miss another round of this historic rivalry in women’s college lacrosse on Thursday at 4 p.m. CST at Martin Stadium.