After winning the Big Ten Championship over Maryland last Saturday, Northwestern will begin its NCAA Tournament run on Sunday morning against No. 15 Michigan. So, members of our staff gave their predictions for how the ‘Cats will fare. Unsurprisingly, given this is a team on a 17-game win streak, there is some rare consensus here.
Iggy Dowling: Win in National Championship
This team has not lost in three months (and even that defeat was by one goal on the road against current No. 2 Syracuse), and it hasn’t given anyone a reason to believe that it’ll lose in the next three weeks. Northwestern has two of the top five players in the nation and it’s won nine of 10 games against top-20 opponents (with a mind-boggling +50 goal differential in those matchups). Even with that tough schedule, the ‘Cats are still third in the nation in scoring margin overall. Simply put, this may be the most talented team Kelly Amonte Hiller has coached in over a decade. Losing earlier wouldn’t take anything away from what the Wildcats have already done, but anything short of a title would be disappointing.
Bradley Locker: Win in National Championship
It takes a good amount for me to pick a team to make a deep run in a postseason, let alone a Northwestern one. But, this 2023 lacrosse squad has checked every box and passed every litmus test with absolute flying colors. For context, in its last three games, Northwestern has outscored its opposition 45-26 — and those matchups were against No. 16 Michigan and No. 10/No. 12 Maryland, with two being in the Big Ten Tournament. This roster has so much skill in so many facets, from scoring (Izzy Scane) to distribution (Erin Coykendall) to even defense (Samantha White, Molly Laliberty, etc.). A group that witnessed last year’s epic collapse to North Carolina gets its revenge and finds itself atop the perch for the first time since 2012.
Gavin Dorsey: Win in National Championship
I mean, come on. This team is rolling. The Wildcats have the best player in the country in Izzy Scane, another Tewaaraton Finalist in Erin Coykendall and two more elite scorers in Hailey Rhatigan and Madison Taylor. That doesn’t even include the draw and defense, where Northwestern has been outstanding this year.
The difference maker in this tournament is going to be who can adjust the most, and to that I look to Kelly Amonte Hiller. One of the most intelligent lacrosse minds on the planet, perhaps Amonte Hiller’s biggest calling card has been her ability to make in-game adjustments. Even in the games Northwestern has struggled in this year, KAH has figured out ways to utilize every part of this lineup, and that’s resulted in NU coming out on top in all but one contest.
Led by the nation’s No. 1 scoring offense, the ‘Cats will roll to the tune of a 21-game winning streak, restoring the program to glory after 11 years and giving Northwestern a national championship team once again.
Sophia Vlahakis: Win in National Championship
Every team wants a championship, but this team is made for a championship. A strong offense? The Wildcats offer the best offense in the country, led by Tewaaraton Finalists Izzy Scane and Erin Coykendall (NU had two of the five players), as well as Hailey Rhatigan, who had the second most goals in the nation last year. A goalie who can step up in big moments? Molly Laliberty has shined under pressure (see: Maryland and Boston College matchups). A chance at the draw? Samantha Smith, Samantha White, Maddy Taylor and Serafina DeMunno are all strong competitors on the circle. Look at the Big Ten Championship; the ‘Cats struggled to win a draw in the first half, but they regrouped and dominated it in the second.
It’s not just flashy scoring that can fuel this team through May (though, yes, when the least amount of goals a team scores in a a game is 13 over an entire season, the attacking talent is unmatched), the Wildcats have been waiting for this. A No. 1 ranking is nice and so is a regular season and tournament championship, but NU doesn’t just enter NCAAs with a target on its back. For as proven and battle-tested the Wildcats are, they’re playing with a chip on their shoulder. Whether it be last year’s semifinal loss or losing by one to Syracuse in the season opener, Northwestern wants the validation of a title. A championship, however, won’t change the fact that this is one of the most talented Wildcat teams to take the field.
Brendan Preisman: Win in National Championship
Yes, there’s definitely part of this that is influenced by the fact that I attend this university. But there's also a whole lot of stats putting Northwestern among the elite of the elite. They’re top five in the nation in (deep breath) assists per game, points per game, scoring margin, scoring offense, shots per game, shots on goal per game and wins. The offense is historically good and might break 2008 Syracuse’s record for points per game in a season. Oh yeah, and they’ve got two of the five best players in the nation. This is the best team for the program since at least 2013, but even that team scored under 13 goals in a game on occasion. It is highly possible (I would even argue likely) that Northwestern takes home their first Tewaaraton Award since 2011. It only makes sense for them to continue the custom of a 2011 rehash by hoisting the trophy at the end of the year.