While No. 5 Northwestern fell to No. 4 Syracuse 16-15, this should not be a disappointing opener at all. From the return of Izzy Scane to the breakout of first-year Madison Taylor, this season’s squad has an extremely high ceiling to reach.
Despite being down four at the half, the ‘Cats battled back the entire time, something they just weren’t quite able to do last season when they got down. Northwestern edged out the Orange in just about every other category, including 23 draw controls to Syracuse’s 11. Samantha Smith and Samantha White commanded most of the time in the circle, with Smith tallying nine and White four.
However, Taylor, was right on the outskirts of the draw circle, scooping up seven draw controls. With the departures of Jill Girardi and Brennan Dwyer, many have stepped up to take the draws — and with the speed so many of these players have, commanding possession from the draw is key for scoring.
It’s one thing to come back strong from injury, but what Scane did was on an entirely different level. She tallied five goals in her first game back since May of 2021, which was also against Syracuse.
While she took a few early shots that she surely wasn’t happy with, she looked extremely comfortable again on the field once she found her footing, which may not be true for every elite athlete who suffers an injury. She also tallied two assists to lead the ‘Cats with seven points.
Taylor rose onto the scene in her first collegiate game, scoring the first goal for Northwestern in what was a back-and-forth battle the entire game.
First-year Madison Taylor puts us on the board for the 2023 season with her first collegiate goal ‼️ pic.twitter.com/3LYTs4UuU0— Northwestern Lax (@NULax) February 11, 2023
Both Scane and Taylor were key to the ‘Cats both battling back and also playing incredibly strong and gritty for a season opener. At the half, the Orange led 8-4, but Northwestern came out of the gates for the second half incredibly strong, scoring three in the first four minutes of the third quarter.
For two teams with this much history to open the season (TLDR; Northwestern ended Syracuse’s season last year, Syracuse ended Northwestern’s season in 2021), it was only natural to see a physical and intense game. However, what comes with that are free position goals, and this was something that Northwestern struggled with. They only went 4-of-12 from the eight-meter arc, which is pretty uncharacteristic, especially for Scane who went 0-of-4. Delaney Sweitzer was lights out in net for Syracuse, but when you get that many free position opportunities, it’s important to use them well — especially when Syracuse has the other Tewaaraton favorite in attacker Meghan Tyrell.
All that being said, Northwestern was able to tie the game with four minutes left thanks to Taylor’s fifth goal, but Cuse responded with goals by both Meghan and Emma Tyrell. Scane was again able to bring it to 16-15, but there just was not enough time left.
That being said, the main issue in the season opener was the defense. Losing Ally Palermo and Madison Doucette, two players with IWLCA and Big Ten honors, was going to be a tough task to mount, and may take some time to figure out. Graduate transfer goalie Molly Laliberty, who came from Division III powerhouse Tufts, tallied six saves, but as could be expected, transitioning to the Division I pace of play may also be an adjustment. Loyal fans may remember last season’s opener at Boston College — which was much more of a lopsided game than this one.
While the schedule gets no easier for Northwestern, who will face Notre Dame and Boston College at home this week, I think with some more reps on the field, this team stands to be an incredibly tough team and will only continue to get better — there’s no need to panic after starting the season 0-1. Yes, there are things to work on, but the lacrosse season is long. After all, if last season showed anything, it’s that head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller trusts in her team to face the best competition in order to prepare themselves to face tough opponents, just like Syracuse, deep into April and May.