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Northwestern lacrosse post-mortem 2022: the highest highs and the lowest lows

Despite the end result, the Lakeshow defied preseason expectations and once again proved it belongs among the best.

Image courtesy of Jess Rapfogel.

It’s safe to say Northwestern Lacrosse fans didn’t know what to expect from the Lakeshow during 2022. However, for a team counted out by many from the start, a Final Four appearance is certainly an accomplishment.

Beginning the year without its leading scorer and Tewaaraton finalist Izzy Scane due to a season-ending injury, along with the loss of two other major players in graduates Sammy Mueller and Lindsey McKone, would prove to be a tough task — even regardless of Northwestern’s difficult schedule, in which it played five ranked teams in its first seven games.

Perhaps the biggest regular-season turning point, after falling to 2021 National Champion then-No. 1 Boston College to open play, was NU’s March 1 overtime victory to avenge its 2021 Final Four loss against then-No. 3 Syracuse. This was the first time the Wildcats truly looked like themselves, honing their offensive prowess against a power conference foe and proving Northwestern could still compete with the best. While they would fall in the next game to then-No. 2 UNC (cough cough, is it still too soon?), the Syracuse game set them up for success through the next stretch of the regular season.

After cruising through the majority of conference play, two late-season losses to then-No. 8 Maryland and then-No. 13 Rutgers, for the regular-season title and a berth in the conference tournament championship respectively, left a sour taste in the ‘Cats’ mouths and allowed them to progress through to the postseason with conviction.

Perhaps then it was good fortune when Northwestern received the No. 4 seed for the 2022 NCAA tournament. They secured home-field advantage through the quarterfinals but did not receive a first-round bye. Playing a first-round game gave this team the confidence boost it needed with a dominant 22-7 win over Central Michigan, putting those two out-of-character conference losses on the back burner.

The most important takeaway from that first-round matchup was the scoring depth of the Wildcats: 11 different players found the back of the net, in stark comparison to just four against Rutgers and seven against Maryland.

From there, Northwestern took care of two familiar opponents in the Michigan Wolverines and Syracuse Orange, once again — and both in convincing fashion.

In both games, the ‘Cats jumped out to an early lead: 5-0 against the Wolverines and 6-2 against the Orange in the first quarters. While Michigan was able to come within one goal, Northwestern’s offensive showing couldn’t be tamed, and it rolled over the Wolverines by a 15-12 victory.

After avenging its 2021 Final Four loss to Syracuse once again in the quarterfinals on a dominant win, the way that the ‘Cats jumped out to an eight-goal lead against the top-seeded Tar Heels the following week at the 2022 Final Four in Baltimore was not completely unexpected.

While they couldn’t hang on for a win against the eventual National Champions, this team surpassed expectations in a way that didn’t seem possible after losing by over 10 goals to both UNC and BC earlier in the season. What this shows is the Wildcats’ unwavering will to win and improve along with the confidence this team has had in itself year after year — that, along with the confidence head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller has in her players.

It was a sad ending to the career of some of the best to ever wear the purple and white for graduate students Lauren Gilbert, Jill Girardi, Brennan Dwyer, and Ally Palermo — but, “not every story has a happy ending, and what fills the penultimate chapters is just as important as the ultimate finale.

These student-athletes were leaders through unprecedented times, injuries, and heartbreak, without a doubt leaving Northwestern Lacrosse better than they found it. The grad students have traveled to three consecutive Final Fours after returning the program to its former postseason prowess.

Despite the departures, this program’s future is bright, starting with Big Ten Freshman of the Year Sammy White. The Baltimore native was second on the team with 36 ground balls — one behind graduate defender Palermo — and was third on the team with 45 draw controls. Her fellow first-year teammate Samantha Smith brings exciting energy on attack and pinpoint shooting, and sophomores Carleigh Mahoney and Leah Holmes have improved greatly from their own first years as well.

We could go up and down this roster and express how high the ceiling is for Northwestern Lacrosse, but we would be remiss if we didn’t also include the possibility of some of the seniors returning as well. It’s likely Scane and goalkeeper Madison Doucette will be back for another year, and it’s possible Allie Berkery, Elle Hansen, Greta Stahl, or Emma Jacques may choose to pursue an extra year of eligibility granted by COVID as well.

Despite how the season came to an end, Northwestern proved in the end it remains one of the best lacrosse programs in the country. With the foundation this year’s graduate students have laid and the abundance of exciting talent climbing through the ranks, there is little doubt some form of postseason hardware should make its way to Evanston in the near future.