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Close to perfection, Northwestern dominates the lacrosse scene

Northwestern has long been a lacrosse powerhouse, but this year’s team may be the most talented in program history.

At this point, Northwestern has proved that there is no opponent it isn’t capable of beating.

After a loss to Syracuse in the Dome, the ‘Cats have taken down every opponent in their path for 11 consecutive wins. With six members of the Tewaaraton Watch List leading the charge, a National Title has become the expectation.

Northwestern opened the season with games against ranked Syracuse, Notre Dame and Boston College teams. Syracuse, currently undefeated and No. 1, is a fierce opponent. The Orange came out on top 16-15 in the season opener but that game helped set a few trends. Five goals each from Izzy Scane and Madison Taylor showed that despite a season off, Scane is more talented than ever, and while Taylor may only be a first-year, she would be a notable player.

Notre Dame and Boston College were similar stories with Scane and Taylor leading the offensive charge. In the 18-14 victory over Notre Dame, Scane posted 10 goals, solidifying that she would be one of the best players in the nation this season. The one-goal win over Boston College was a pivotal marking point in this season, although just three games in. Dylan Amonte’s six-point game displayed that this Wildcat team is not just Scane, but is made up of a collection of dominant players. Perhaps the most notable performance over this arc of games was Molly Laliberty. The graduate transfer from Tufts had no problem keeping the ‘Cats in games against the best teams in the country, proving she was Division I ready.

Before convincing wins against No. 4 Stony Brook, No. 17 Michigan and No. 1 North Carolina, NU toppled Youngstown State and Vanderbilt. Perhaps not surprising, but it was done without Scane and marked the emergence of Hailey Rhatigan. Over the span of those two games, the Mercer transfer put up 8 goals; despite not playing in five games, her 27 goals are now the fourth most on the squad.

The ‘Cats have left no game up for debate — not even when they overtook the Tar Heels to avenge last season’s semi-final loss and disrupt the national standings. Equipped with one of the most efficient offenses in the nation, Northwestern seems untouchable.

The Offense

Averaging 18 goals per game and almost 36 shots per game, the attack is clearly Northwestern’s greatest strength. Scane is the top contributor with 60 goals over only 10 games, and the former Tewaaraton Finalist is looking at what could be a 100-goal-plus season. She leads the nation by a 14-goal margin, and her 74 points rank second — just one away from Syracuse’s Meaghan Tyrell. When talking about this offense, however, it’s not just Scane who takes charge. Northwestern is so dominant because of its depth — namely, Erin Coykendall, Taylor and Rhatigan.

Coykendall has one of the biggest presences of anyone. She has incredible field vision, seemingly thinking a few plays ahead — a quality that became evident last year when she led the team in assists, which she continues to do again this year. Last season, she recorded 37 assists in 21 games, and now just 12 games in, she already has 30. This season has also seen her become an incredibly capable shooter with 32 goals. After Johns Hopkins and Stanford, where Coykendall reached new highs with a six-goal game against the Cardinal, it became evident that she is the most impactful player behind Scane, and the chemistry between the two is one of the most impactful dynamics on the team.

Taylor wasn’t expected to be this strong of a player — strong meaning she’s arguably the best freshman in the nation. Winning seven of eight Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors, Taylor is one away from breaking the record previously set by Scane in 2019. The Long Island native emerged onto the Division I lacrosse scene as if she was a seasoned player. In 12 games, Taylor has recorded multiple goals across 10 and only once didn’t find the back of the cage. With 30 goals, she is clearly an offensive asset, but the midfielder has also been effective on the draw circle and on defense.

Rhatigan is one of the most prolific shooters on the team. Whether it be a hat trick against UNC or a five-goal game against Penn State that included three points in nearly a minute, she is a piece of any postseason run.

The Defense

There was some uncertainty surrounding how the defense would shape up after Syracuse, but the ‘Cats have adjusted well. Samantha White, specifically, has been the key, collecting 17 caused turnovers and 15 ground balls. The sophomore is also incredibly versatile, serving as a vacuum on the draw circle and even contributing offensively.

Juniors Carleigh Mahoney and Kendall Halpern have helped bring together the defense too. Garnering 19 ground balls to lead the team, Mahoney taking more of a defensive role on the midfield has proved beneficial. Halpern has a knack for stopping attackers by playing physical and tough, and these qualities are reflected in her 14 caused turnovers and 17 ground balls.

Laliberty has been solid in the net. She currently has a .468 save percentage, but has revealed her reliability against many top-tier teams, such has against Notre Dame, Stony Brook and UNC, where she had 13, 12 and 10 saves, respectively.

The Draw

Without Jill Girardi, one of the biggest storylines heading into the season was what the draw would look like. Samantha Smith has served as the answer.

The sophomore received a little bit of experience last season, recording 34 draw controls, and this year is spearheading the draw unit. Smith has taken 65 of Northwestern's draw controls to help denote NU the second-best average for draw controls per game at 17.5.

In this game, the draw is critical. Being able to secure the ball is what often proves to be the difference. Against BC, the draw is what kept the ‘Cats in the game, as they tallied 16 to the Eagles’ 17. North Carolina was favored over Northwestern, but the ‘Cats outshone them 14 to 12, leading to a respectable 13-9 win. Even against Penn State, the draw is what got Northwestern comfortably ahead. It was a two-goal game at the half, but five draws — four from Smith — in the third quarter, put NU ahead by seven at the end of the frame.

The ‘Cats have four games left against Rutgers, Albany, Ohio State and No. 10 Maryland. There is little reason to think Northwestern won’t defeat each of these teams to finish 15-1. An undefeated season would have been nice, but that Syracuse loss may have turned out to be Northwestern’s biggest asset. If it was later in the season, if that was a home game or even if there was an extra minute on the board, that game could have gone differently. But now, Northwestern sits behind Syracuse in the rankings. That’s enough to light a fire under this team when these two title favorites enter the postseason.

With Midseason All-Americans in Scane, Taylor, Coykendall and White and honorable mentions for Rhatigan and Halpern, the program may win its first championship since 2012. A roster like this one doesn’t come around every season.