A shot at a national title is what you dream about. And when you play for Northwestern, the expectation is to make that dream a reality every season.
Molly Laliberty and Hailey Rhatigan didn’t know where the transfer portal would lead them, and while they both have had their own experiences at the top of the lacrosse world, the immense success they experienced this season is different.
“I’ve been wanting to be on this big of a stage and win a national championship ever since I was five years old,” Rhatigan said. “And to think, at first, that I wouldn’t have an opportunity like that. And then, to actually be able to be in that spot and be on the field with all these girls is just nothing short of amazing.”
Rhatigan, whose 98 goals at Mercer last season were the second most in the country, saw her brother, Kyle, play in three Division II national championships at Limestone University and win two. To play in one in her last collegiate season “means everything.”
Laliberty had a fair share of postseason experience at Tufts, a Division III powerhouse. As a sophomore, she played in the second half in the Jumbos’ Final Four loss to Salisbury. In her last two seasons, the 2022 Goalie of the Year led her team to the national title game, but came up short in both appearances. Playing at Northwestern is a chance to make up for those losses with one of the most storied programs in lacrosse history.
“As soon as I knew it was going to be a possibility to come here, I jumped at the opportunity because getting to play on this team and with this coaching staff is truly an honor, and then additionally getting to do it with 35 other girls that I love so much, that’s truly a gift,” Laliberty said.
The two graduate transfers have been pivotal to Northwestern’s success this year. Rhatigan, who missed the first five games, has the second-most goals on the team with 59 and just put up four in the Final Four victory over Denver. Laliberty has played strong in big moments to keep the ‘Cats in multiple games. In the Big Ten Championship, Northwestern struggled to net the ball at first, but Laliberty's six saves were the reason the score was tied at halftime. Against Boston College, who NU will face again in the title game, a save off a free-position shot with less than two minutes left helped deliver the Wildcats a one-goal victory.
“It’s so different in the best way possible,” Rhatigan said about Northwestern. “I loved everything about Mercer but coming here, just seeing like how different the team chemistry is here compared to Mercer, I can’t explain it.”
They may not have played on a team held to this high of a standard before or on this big of a stage, but Rhatigan and Laliberty may just be the key pieces that deliver the Wildcats their first championship since 2012. And, they want it badly.
“I would say that I’m not nervous. I’m excited. I think it’s easy to be calm when you have the defensive unit that we have and the entire attack that we have,” Rhatigan said.
“When we work in cohesion together, it’s magical.”