Northwestern lacrosse boasts one of the toughest schedules in the country going into the season, beginning with familiar ACC foe Syracuse in upstate New York on Feb. 11.
While it will be tough to lose graduate students Lauren Gilbert, Jill Girardi, Brennan Dwyer and Ally Palermo, ‘Cats fans will rejoice to see graduate attacker Izzy Scane back on the field after she missed the 2021-22 campaign with an injury.
Coming into the preseason ranked fifth by USA Lacrosse Magazine (personally, I think this is a snub granted how much talent is returning for the ‘Cats and how strong the freshman class is), Northwestern will likely hope to make yet another deep NCAA Tournament run and Big Ten Championship.
Many overlooked Northwestern coming into the season without Tewaraaton, All-American, All-Big Ten (etc... you get it) Izzy Scane, but if there’s one thing this team knows, it’s how to surpass expectations. The ‘Cats faltered a bit in their early season ACC matchups, falling to then-defending champion Boston College to open the season in Boston, and to (it’s still too soon) UNC in Chapel Hill. However, the true turning point and when this team found its identity was in the OT victory at home against Syracuse, who had ended NU’s 2021 campaign in the Final Four.
The team wavered a bit in the end of the regular season, falling to Maryland in College Park and bowing out of the Big Ten Tournament uncharacteristically early to Rutgers, which helped fuel its fire going into the NCAA Tournament. It took care of business against tough teams like Michigan and Syracuse, but could not overcome arguably one of the most incredible comebacks by North Carolina in the NCAA Semifinals.
If there’s anything this team knows, it’s the utterly soul-crushing feeling of falling in the Final Four, which begs the question — will it be able to get over the hump this year?
Obviously, the loss of so many of the star graduate students, notably Jill Girardi and Lauren Gilbert, who stepped up tremendously without Scane on the attack and came in first and second in scoring on the team, will be tough to replace. That being said, the departure of Madison Doucette in goal looms large. Graduating senior Greta Stahl opted to use her final year of eligibility at Arizona State as well.
Key Players, Old and New
Alongside Scane, attacker Elle Hansen and defender Allie Berkery are back for another season. Berkery will likely anchor the defense after Palermo departed, and Hansen is primed for another high-scoring season after tallying 18 goals and 14 assists last season.
Erin Coykendall, now a senior, is the right-hand to Scane on the attack. She can do it all, from dishing dimes to scoring. Expect her to be locked and reloaded now this season, and highlight reel plays like this one:
THE BEHIND THE BACK ASSIST. SHEESH pic.twitter.com/5JV2GKJVsW— Northwestern Lax (@NULax) April 2, 2022
Also on the defensive end, while she will likely also be taking a larger role in the draw circle this season, is Sammy White. She was the 2022 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, and tallied six goals and 45 draw controls last season.
Head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller dipped into the transfer portal this offseason, coming up strong with two new additions. Likely the starting net minder, Molly Laliberty comes from Tufts where she was the IWCLA Division III Goalie of the Year and a First Team All-American. Also coming in is nifty attacker Hailey Rhatigan, who comes from Southern Conference member Mercer University. She tallied a staggering 93-goal season last year to lead Mercer in scoring, including two games with eight-goal performances, and has totaled 204 goals in three years as a Bear.
Lastly, this year’s freshman class is stacked, boasting three Under Armour All-Americans: goalie Francesca Argentieri and attackers Carli Fleisher and Abby LoCasio. LoCasio and Fleisher, alongside junior Leah Holmes, will likely take a larger role on the attack this season.
Two more names to watch on the draw circle are first-year Madison Taylor and sophomore Samantha Smith. Smith tallied 34 draw controls alongside her 18 goals, and with the losses of Girardi and Dwyer, she could very well step up as one of the mainstays in the circle. As well, Taylor tallied over 300 draw controls in high school, where she was named a US Lacrosse All-American twice.
The losses of Gilbert, Girardi, Palermo and Dwyer are monumental, but taking a look at this roster up and down should excite Northwestern lacrosse fans. From Scane’s return, Coykendall’s playmaking ability and a stellar freshman class, I think this season should be another strong one. Especially when looking around the other top-five teams, ACC powerhouses like Boston College and North Carolina have graduated many of their shining stars, making way for Northwestern to take a run for the crown.