Although No. 4 Northwestern, in theory, avenged its 2021 season-ending loss to No. 5 Syracuse earlier this season, they were able to achieve postseason revenge on Thursday at Martin Stadium.
What stood out the most about this game is how fearlessly the ‘Cats were playing, from the offense to the defense. That sense of urgency, said coach Kelly Amonte Hiller, was fueled by the team’s losses to conference foes Maryland and Rutgers ahead of NCAAs.
“I think those losses at the end of the season really created a scenario where they have a little fear because they feel like they’ve already experienced heartbreak,” she said after the game. “They just want to go out there and, and feel like they’ve put everything into it.”
The afternoon matchup between the Wildcats and the Orange got off to a riveting start, as senior defender Allie Berkery notched her first career goal to keep the Orange from extending their 1-0 lead early, putting the ‘Cats even.
From there, both teams traded goals, but once Northwestern was able to capitalize on Syracuse’s turnovers despite losing to the Orange on the draw more than they have in previous games, they went on a 6-0 run spanning nearly 30 minutes.
This 6-0 run extended into the third quarter, as senior goalkeeper Madison Doucette had an outstanding game, tallying 11 saves and only four goals allowed — the fewest allowed this season by Northwestern.
Veteran Lauren Gilbert led the way with four goals on the attack with eight other Wildcats contributing scores as well. Syracuse shifted its defensive scheme from man-to-man to zone in the second quarter, but at that point, the Orange were digging themselves out of a 6-2 hole.
“I think in the past we’ve gotten a little bit frazzled if the [opponents] defense is changing things up on us,” Gilbert said. “But we really stayed calm, worked the ball around and I think we wore them down in a lot of possessions and got goals late in the shot clock.”
Heading into their fourth consecutive (barring 2020’s cancelation) Final Four appearance, this team is hungry for the opportunity and has come into its own late in the season with momentum.
Northwestern put up three goals in each quarter after putting up six in the first, while Syracuse only tallied one in the final two frames.
“We want to be the relentless team that breaks your will,” Gilbert said “We have no mercy. We’re never gonna let the foot off the gas.”
Her fellow graduate student Jill Girardi had a spectacular day as well, causing a turnover to score an impactful goal early on. She contributed two goals and five draw controls.
While this game was not particularly heavily swayed by the draw in either team’s direction — with Syracuse outscoring Northwestern 12-7 — Amonte Hiller said that it isn’t just the draws that win games.
“Sometimes you just win in different ways,” she said. “When one component wasn’t at our best, the other component was really stepping up and having their back.”
Given that the Wildcats were higher seeded than the Orange, they were able to host — and win — one more game at Martin Stadium for their graduate students.
“This win is probably the most special for me, not just because it’s the win in my final home game to send us to the Final Four, but because I’ve never been so proud of the way we’ve played as a team,” Gilbert said. “If we continue to play like this, we are unstoppable, we really are, and I’ve never felt that strongly before.”
Gilbert and the rest of the No. 4 Northwestern Wildcats will face another common foe and rival in No. 1 North Carolina in the NCAA Semifinals next Friday in Baltimore at Johns Hopkins’ Homewood Field.