On a rainy day in Cary, North Carolina, the dreams of a team right outside of Chicago came true.
The dreams of graduate transfers Hailey Rhatigan and Molly Laliberty, who never thought they would play on this big of a stage. The dreams of Tewaaraton favorite Izzy Scane, who was sidelined last year by a torn ACL. The dreams of Maddy Taylor, a first-year who scored the first two goals of the title game. The dreams of head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller, who for the past 11 years has been waiting and fighting for this. The dreams of this team and of past teams.
“I was pretty hard on myself, taking a lot of ownership, and you know, I was putting too [many] expectations on myself and on the team,” said Amonte Hiller of not making it to the championship since 2012, after winning seven in eight years. “I just said, ‘I’m hitting the reset button and completely resetting this program, and going back to how I started it in 2005...It’s not only been an awesome process. There are so many alums that contributed to this championship today that aren’t on this team.”
While it may have felt like a long-time coming, the Wildcats seemed destined to lift the trophy at the end of the season. It didn’t matter that they would face the best defense in the country in Denver; the ‘Cats soundly won in the semifinals, 15-7. It didn’t matter that their final opponent was not just one of the best teams in the country, but was appearing in its sixth straight title game. None of this mattered at all. The ‘Cats dominated Boston College to the point where they were running the clock.
Northwestern quickly got off to a 3-0 lead in the first quarter off back-to-back free position shots from Taylor and one from Rhatigan. The Eagles finally came to life in the second quarter, chipping in two, but the ‘Cats retaliated right back and never looked back.
A 6-2 lead at the half was enough to show the strength of the nation’s No. 1 offense. But the second half revealed that this offense is playing in its own tier — it’s unforgivingly lethal. En route to an 18-6 victory, Taylor and Scane, who set a new program goal record at 99, chipped in four each, Rhatigan and Erin Coykendall earned hat tricks, and Emerson Bohlig, Elle Hansen, Sammy White and Samantha Smith — who excelled on the draw — all scored.
This type of dominance speaks to what the Wildcats have been doing every time they took the field: having fun.
“I think this whole year we just focused on enjoying ourselves,” Scane said. “We could lose this game by 20 and that would not take anything away from this season.”
This was Boston College's (19-4) worst loss of the season. Perhaps, the fact that the Eagles’ other losses came in the regular season against Northwestern and teams that NU beat in North Carolina and Denver could have foreshadowed a victory. But, the Eagles are a more than worthy opponent, and another pivotal factor that flew under the radar due to the offensive power is the Wildcat defense.
“The last time we played Boston College in February, Sammy White was still a midfielder and Kendall Halpern was coming off an injury and played limited minutes in that game,” Amonte Hiller said of the one-goal victory. “I think the second half of that game was kind of the spark that started this defensive run.”
White, who was switched to defense in the last half against BC earlier in the year, shone on Sunday, earning herself Player of the Game. She picked up six ground balls, caused three turnovers and had seven draw controls. Altogether, the defense caused 19 of 21 BC turnovers. In a game that was very much a turnover competition and saw constant possession change, the defense and Laliberty were as prominent as the offensive onslaught.
So, call it fate or destiny or things just working out. The team on the shores of Lake Michigan is back on top of the lacrosse world again, and it's hard to believe there ever was a doubt. It’s hard to believe that this team with eight All-Americans and two Tewaaraton Finalists was ranked fifth in the preseason and only became No. 1 for the final three weeks of the regular season. The overwhelming talent was always there — it's how Northwestern drove a four-goal comeback in its season opener and went on to win every game since. Now, the championship is too.
“[This is] really all I ever wanted, and dreamed of as a kid,” Taylor said. “Now being here is so surreal. I can't believe this right now. That’s all I ever wanted. My dreams came true.”