Since starting the season off with a loss, Northwestern has embarked on a five-game winning streak that speaks to its offensive prowess, flashy stick skills and No. 3 national ranking. The loss of Jill Girardi, Lauren Gilbert and Brennan Dwyer led to concerns over how this team would square up against top competitors, but those presumptions have proven to be underestimations. Taking down Boston College and Notre Dame and losing by only one to Syracuse, the Wildcats have proven early that they intend to be among the best in the nation. Below is a breakdown of what Kelly Amonte Hiller’s squad does so well.
Scoring is this team’s greatest strength. The Wildcats’ 117 goals are the second-most in the nation, and they lead the country in scoring with 19.5 goals per game.
“Scane shoots and scores” is a phrase bound to be common to any game Izzy Scane is in. Her 27 goals may lead the team, but when she can’t play or is getting shut down, it’s a next man up situation. That is not a concern with a deep lineup of talented shooters.
Erin Coykendall and Madison Taylor are two key aspects of the offense. Coykendall is a strong playmaker, leading the team with 16 assists — more than double anyone else. Only a first-year, Madison Taylor could be a menace on the field come April. She has posted 17 goals and has already been named Big Ten Freshman of the Week three times. After scoring five goals in her first college game, Taylor seemed to get beaten up by the Notre Dame defense, but she still managed two goals in the effort and has since shown her toughness.
Elle Hansen and Dylan Amonte have also stepped up this season. Hansen has 10 goals and seven assists — the second-most behind Coykendall. Amonte has played especially pivotally in times when Scane wasn’t able to. She found the back of the cage five times when Scane was held scoreless until the second half against BC, and Amonte scored seven times in games vs. Vanderbilt and Youngstown State that didn’t feature the Tewaaraton Finalist. Down the line, Hailey Rhatigan could take on a bigger role in the attack. She’s coming off a 93-goal season and tallied nine points in her season debut this weekend.
As strong as the offense is, however, Northwestern could improve on free-position shots. Scane and Amonte have demonstrated relative consistency on their opportunities, but Northwestern is shooting .412 off free positions, which is rather low for such a high-scoring unit.
For the past few seasons, Northwestern was used to a defense led by Ally Palermo with Madison Doucette in goal. With those veteran players gone, the Wildcat defense has to grow accustomed to the underclassmen. Samantha White, in particular, has played a huge role, gathering four ground balls and causing four turnovers this season. However, the ‘Cats are still looking for other consistent players to step up, as the team is allowing a .741 shot-on-goal percentage and averaging just six caused turnovers per game.
Similar to NU’s defense, its draw has come to be dominated by the underclassmen. Leading the nation in draw controls last season, Northwestern had a ton of success on the faceoff, but without Gilbert, Girardi and Dwyer, there is uncertainty surrounding the role.
Taylor and sophomores White, Samantha Smith and Serafina DeMunno have been taking the reps for the ‘Cats with Smith leading the bunch. Ranked 21st in draw controls, Northwestern is still navigating that aspect of the game but has shown signs of improvement. Amonte Hiller’s team was able to evenly match Boston College and Notre Dame, obtaining 16 draws to Boston College’s 17 and 17 to Notre Dame’s 19. But, it is a spot far from being deemed mastered.
Nothing quite says welcome to Division I lacrosse like facing an extremely talented Syracuse team for your first game. Coming from Tufts, Molly Laliberty has adjusted well. Against the Orange, she gave up 16 goals and had six saves, but she has continued to get better each time she stands between the pipes. Laliberty has recorded 42 saves in six games for a save percentage of .429 — a respectable number, considering half of those games were against top-tier programs in Syracuse, Notre Dame and Boston College.
Amonte Hiller has also been able to play freshman Francesca Argentieri and sophomore Cara Nugent, allowing for both to see action and record a few saves. For this season, though, it seems Laliberty will be the anchor, and she hasn’t given any reason why she shouldn’t be.
Northwestern faces a difficult upcoming stretch at home with games against No. 4 Stony Brook, No. 19 Michigan and the current No. 1 and reigning national champs North Carolina. Beyond that, the remaining seven games are against four top-25 teams. It’s only going to get tougher, but equipped with an arsenal of shooters, Northwestern should remain a competitive foe.