Madison Taylor took the field against Syracuse as a surprise on the Northwestern roster. By the time the game was over, she began a historic season that should cement her name as one of the best players in the game.
In her collegiate debut, Taylor scored five goals on what would become the best team in the country. With 38 goals across 15 games, the first-year has continued to impress and expand upon her initial success. Only once, against the formidable Stony Book, did she not score, and only once, against the then-No. 1 UNC, did she have a one-goal game.
The Wantagh, Long Island native was, as expected, an incredibly strong player in high school. The two-time All-American tallied over 300 draw controls, and in her final two seasons, she notched 128 goals, 132 ground balls and 68 caused turnovers. She was awarded the Paumanok Award, which recognized her as the best senior lacrosse player on Long Island — a breeding ground for talent in the sport.
With offers from Michigan, Syracuse and Florida, Taylor was a well-known player in her class, but her fellow Northwestern recruits actually received more recognition. Abby LoCasio was ranked as the third-best attacker and 10th overall player in the Class of 2022 by Inside Lacrosse. Carli Fleisher, the 2022 USA Lacrosse National High School Player of the Year, was ranked fifth on attack and 14th overall. Taylor didn’t crack the top 50, and unlike her teammates who were identified as five-star recruits, she was a four-star recruit. She may have been flying under the radar, but Taylor has become the only Northwestern first-year to start every game this season and was the first first-year added to the Tewaaraton Watch List.
From the start, Taylor has been an integral member of the attack. Following the Syracuse contest, she put up two goals against Notre Dame and three against Boston College. Those are two great teams, and the level of play on the field was of the highest caliber. For Taylor to be that successful through just her first three career games showcases her talent. Shooting .551, Taylor takes strong shots and has presented herself as much of a threat as veteran superstars Izzy Scane, Hailey Rhatigan and Erin Coykendall.
One of her greatest strengths is finding and taking free-position shots. Northwestern hasn’t necessarily maximized those opportunities, scoring on just fewer than half; however, Taylor has excelled. She has garnered 26 free positions shots — six over Scane, who has the second-most. Her lacrosse IQ is emphasized by her ability to read a defense and draw shooting spaces, off of which she has a team-leading 14 goals. She currently ranks among the top 10 for single-season free-position goals and will likely be at least in the top five at the season’s conclusion.
The Draw Control Savant
Midfielders are often the most athletic and fastest players on the team — Taylor is the proof. She’s able to play all over the field, and what makes her so versatile is her speed and her toughness that’s best exemplified on the circle.
Whether it be boxing out an opponent or racing to the ball across the circle, Taylor is the first one there. Because of her grit, she’s able to push through the other players; because of her speed, she can get the ball and quickly bring it to the cage. For a team that likes to work fast, it's valuable to have a player who can initiate a fast break off the draw.
In graduating Jill Girardi, Kelley Amonte Hiller needed people to step up on the draw. Sophomore Samantha Smith has definitely led the charge, but Taylor is her partner. The first-year has the second most draw controls with 45. She had exceptionally strong showings against Marquette, Syracuse, Notre Dame and Marquette, earning eight, seven and six draw controls, respectively. In a one-goal loss to the Orange and an 18-14 victory over the Irish, her performances were impactful.
The Tough Opponent
For as strong as she is offensively, Taylor’s defense should not be overshadowed. Further expanding on her toughness and her speed, Taylor isn’t afraid to lay down a check, and due to how quick she is, she often can land them in the midfield as she chases down an opponent during possession changes. Even as an offensive middie, she is tied for second in groundballs with Carleigh Mahoney at 24 — just two behind Kendall Halpern.
Her ability to challenge anyone was shown against Notre Dame. Against Syracuse, Taylor really did seem untouchable. Going up against a physical Notre Dame defense that held the best offense in the country to just four goals in the first half was a different game. Fouled four times and being held scoreless until the third quarter, Taylor was getting beaten up.
Yet, for as bruised up as the first-year seemed to get, she still managed one of her best all-around performances of the season. It wasn’t an easy game for any Wildcat, but Taylor proved how tough she is — evidenced by a yellow card — and how menacing she can become. Emotions and frustrations don’t inhibit her play — if anything, they fuel it.
Where She Stands
Northwestern has had three Big Ten Freshman of the Year recipients since 2002, with Selena Lasota in 2015, Scane in 2019 and Samantha White in 2022. As White is a defender, Taylor draws the most comparisons to midfielder Lasota and attacker Scane.
Lasota, a Tewaaraton Finalist and three-time All-American, is one of Northwestern’s greatest players in history. The all-time leading scorer tallied 69 goals, 30 groundballs, 20 draw controls and nine assists through 21 games in her first season.
As a first-year, Scane, this year’s Tewaaraton favorite and the program’s single-season record holder with 98 goals, had 62 goals, 26 ground balls, 59 draw controls and 18 assists through 20 games. That season, Scane won a record seven Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors, but Taylor is the new record holder with eight.
With 38 goals, 24 ground balls, 45 draw controls and 16 assists in 15 games, Taylor will likely have more groundballs, draw controls and assists than both these phenomena had in their first campaigns.
What’s most impressive about Taylor is her athleticism and consistency.
Taylor arose on this scene with a bang, and she’s never shown signs of retreating, getting better and more confident in each game. Whether it be scoring, earning draw controls or playing tough defense during an entire transition, Taylor has the ability to completely dominate the field, and she’s doing that as a first-year on a team that’s expected to produce the best lacrosse in the country year after year.
To show up in her first game ever and put on a commanding performance with players like Scane and Meaghan Tyrell on the field says something. To be able to continue to do that in every subsequent game to become not just the best newcomer in the Big Ten, but one of the best players in all of lacrosse, foreshadows her becoming one of the biggest names in the sport for the foreseeable future.