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Lacrosse: In commanding performances, Northwestern bests Johns Hopkins, Stanford and Penn State

For the Lakeshow, the sky is the only real limit. 

The Northwestern lacrosse team is about as close to perfection as it gets. Assisted by offensive prowess and a brick wall defense, the No. 2-ranked team has won 11 straight games.

Johns Hopkins, Stanford and Penn State are all respectable opponents, but Northwestern is playing at such a high level that it dominates any team in its path. It’s starting to seem that to challenge the ‘Cats, a team doesn’t just have to be strong or feature some of the best players in the nation, it has to be in the running for best in the nation overall.

The Wildcat offense piled goal-after-goal against the Blue Jays to win 19-5. Northwestern put up six goals in each of the first two quarters, and three and four in the final two frames respectively. On the other side of the ball, Samantha White and Kendall Halpern led a forceful defensive effort, successfully holding Johns Hopkins scoreless in both the second and fourth quarters.

Leading the offensive onslaught, Erin Coykendall tallied seven points, picking up two assists and tying her career-best of five goals. Izzy Scane and Hailey Rhatigan also had four goals apiece, and Madison Taylor added three. Rhatigan, the Mercer transfer who didn’t play until the fifth game of the season, notched a hat trick in just the first frame.

Stanford was a similar story. The trusty rotation of shooters remained untouchable, and the defense proved to be steady.

The Cardinals got on the board first in the first quarter, but that unleashed 11 straight Wildcat goals in less than 13 minutes. Stanford’s offense was relatively suppressed until the final quarter when it put up five.

In the 20-9 victory, Coykendall had a career game. The flashy playmaker set new personal highs of six goals and nine points — five of those goals came in the first half. Taylor, who has won Big Ten Freshman of the Week six out of the seven total weeks, tallied five goals, while Rhatigan and Scane put up four each. The only goal not scored by the quartet came from Elle Hansen.

In Penn State, Northwestern found an aggressive, physical opponent. There were 55 fouls and nine cards given out, but even if the ‘Cats were beat-up and bruised after the game, they were never outplayed.

The two teams went up and down the field for five minutes before Penn State managed to score, but seven Northwestern goals soon followed. The second frame wasn’t nearly as lopsided.

Samantha Smith scored the first goal of the second set, but then Penn State put up four. Northwestern finally got on the board before the quarter closed out with a beautiful Scane goal, but another two Lions’ goals made it a three-point game at the half, 9-6.

The competitiveness of the match-up certainly continued with the gritty, tough playing style, but the Wildcats effectively sealed the game, putting up six goals and holding the Lions to two in the third quarter. Half of those NU goals came from Rhatigan. Northwestern went on to take the game 19-9. Rhatigan and Scane combined for 11 goals, and after Thursday night, Scane has totaled 60 goals for the year. She leads the nation in that category with a comfortable 15-goal lead over Jill Smith of Michigan.

There was the pending question through the first few games: what will the ‘Cats do if Scane is shut down? To that, Northwestern has provided two answers. The first is that, well, Scane will rarely get shut down — that’s a challenge she will take head-on. She is a force that can hardly ever be contained, and her name will be remembered by this program, this school and perhaps even the sport well after she leaves Evanston. But, regardless, Northwestern never actually was in a who-can-fill-her-shoes situation. Each player in the quartet of Scane, Coykendall, Taylor and Rhatigan is just as fierce, just as competitive and just as much of a weapon as the next. They’re all on the Tewaarton Watch List — rightfully so — and each is an unbelievable talent by herself; together, what’s left is arguably the best team in the country.

The reliability of having players who can consistently contribute is not the only preconceived weakness Northwestern has disputed. The departure of Jill Girardi caused concern for the draw, and the departure of Ally Palermo raised questions about who could anchor the defense. Sophomores Smith and White have provided the answers. Smith has taken 65 of Northwestern’s 205 draw controls, collecting 19 over these last three games. As for White, she has been exceptional in preventing attackers from getting solid shots off. Across Johns Hopkins, Stanford and Penn State, White had five ground balls and seven caused turnovers.

With four games left, the ‘Cats, now 11-1, look to continue their dominant success. Northwestern heads to the Northeast next week for games against Rutgers on April 6 and Albany on April 8.