The energy was palpable at Johnny Unitas Stadium in Towson, Maryland, when No. 2 Northwestern took on No. 4 Syracuse in the 2021 NCAA Final Four.
Coming in at 15-0, the Wildcats were favored to win their first national championship since 2012 — led by none other than junior attacker Izzy Scane.
While the Michigan native put up four goals and three assists in the loss to Syracuse, her classmate and close friend Elle Hansen sat on the sidelines, having just had surgery on her torn ACL, which she had suffered just two weeks prior.
“The energy was so high,” Hansen said. “I was sitting in a chair on the sideline, and it was really hard.”
Despite the high expectations leading into the Final Four, Northwestern fell 21-13 in surprising fashion to Syracuse that game, ending its first perfect season in 12 years.
Just a few months later in a final fall preseason game, Scane went down. The crowd was silent, fearing the worst for the 2021 Tewaaraton Finalist, Big Ten Attacker of the Year and First Team All-American.
It, too, was her ACL.
As Hansen was preparing to step back on the field for the Final Four, this year at Homewood Field in Baltimore, Scane took a seat on the sidelines — the very same position held by her teammate a year prior. This time, though, No. 1 North Carolina produced a comeback that even a movie couldn’t write up, overcoming the ‘Cats eight-goal lead and ultimately winning the 2022 championship.
While it was a heartbreaking game for all onlookers, Scane felt hopeless from the sidelines, watching the storied career of her close friend and fellow attacker, Lauren Gilbert, come to an abrupt end.
“Losing games like that is always so tough when you play at such a high level. That’s your dream you’ve had since you were like a little kid,” Scane said. “Elle and I both have been in that position of wishing we could have been out there to try to do more. But, I think it’s definitely a learning experience.”
After the dust had settled, Scane channeled her time and energy into how she could get back onto the field at the same level she left it, and turned to Hansen. While at different points in their rehab, they were able to lean on each other and go through a lot of it together.
“Having someone who you could do all the rehab with really made things better because you knew you weren’t going through it alone,” Hansen said. “[We] could really lean on each other in those low moments, because those are definitely there. And they happen a lot.”
The two share a long history, and their bond was only strengthened by their injuries. Hansen, from the Boston area, played on the club lacrosse team Massachusetts Elite since middle school. Mass Elite, as it is colloquially known, is one of the top clubs in the lacrosse powerhouse that is the Boston-area.
Come freshman year of high school, 15-year-old Scane also joined the team from Michigan, where there are not as many competitive lacrosse programs. The two became close quickly, attending tournaments together in the summers where they would be roommates and stay at each others’ houses. They trained, lived and tried out together for the Team USA U19 team, which was led by their future coach, Kelly Amonte Hiller.
They won gold in Ontario, Canada, the summer after their freshman season at Northwestern, where Scane tallied 21 goals and Hansen had five.
With so much history together, they have been able to continue to develop their relationship on and off the field at Northwestern.
However, they have had to wait through a pandemic and multiple knee injuries to finally play together again — Hansen was primarily a midfielder until last season, when she stepped up to join the attack in Scane’s absence.
Because Scane was injured just three months before the start of the 2022 season, she made it her goal to focus on learning how to be the best teammate she could.
“One of my main focuses was contributing that season as much as I possibly could if I wasn’t able to be on the field,” Scane said. “I thought, ‘What other affect could I have on that season and the girls around me?’
And, per the testimonies of those around her, she was certainly making a big impact off the field, helping the team make their third consecutive Final Four.
“She wasn’t feeling sorry for herself because she was sitting on the sidelines,” Hansen said. “She was actively engaged. Every single game, she was always one of the loudest voices on the sideline.”
Their coach also had high praise for Scane, even though she couldn’t contribute on Lakeside Field.
“She did just such an incredible job. She was such an emotional leader for the team, and she was so engaged in helping her teammates,” Amonte Hiller said to Inside Lacrosse. “I think she just decided like, ‘Yes, I’m committed to this. I’m going to help my team have the best possible season.’ I know that that was hard because in the past, the only way that she’s known to help is just go out there and do, like most athletes. She had to learn how to help in a different way.”
Moving into their fifth season with the program, the whole team has adopted a philosophy dedicated to expressing how every person, no matter what role they play, has a great impact on the team’s success.
Playing lacrosse at Northwestern carries a lot of pressure, which is reflected in their schedule: starting strong off the bat against No. 5 Syracuse and facing every top team in the country. The community and support around the team, from the support staff to the players, helps the team prepare for this every day.
“I think just making sure everyone knows that everything that they’re doing is leading towards the end goal that we have [of winning a championship]. Just being able to be on the same page altogether helps to kind of hit the ground running,” Scane said. “A lot of us are returning from last year, and I think that feels a little bit of a fire under you — losing in the fashion like that [against UNC], no one wants to lose like that.”
Now at full strength, both Hansen and Scane know that every day playing lacrosse is a gift, after having it taken away with both the pandemic and injuries.
Besides wanting to win this season, the two graduate students are focusing on enjoying each day, being leaders, but reminding themselves to enjoy the process.
“As older girls on the team, a lot of experiences kind of seem repetitive, but when that stuff gets taken away, you kind of get a good perspective in terms of what you appreciate and being grateful,” Scane said. “I say all the time, this time last year, I wouldn’t have been doing this. So I just need to be thankful that that’s the position that I’m in, and what I’m able to do this season.”