clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The unsung heroes of the national championship game

While the stars did shine bright, Northwestern lacrosse doesn’t bring home its eighth national title without help from all over.

Northwestern Lacrosse Twitter — @NULax

Some of the names are already etched in history. Izzy Scane scored six points en route to being named the NCAA tournament’s most outstanding player. Madison Taylor, as a freshman, scored four goals in the national title game. Hailey Rhatigan, the transfer from Mercer (known for her scoring), had three goals in the biggest game of her career. Erin Coykendall, the nation’s third-ranked point scorer, added five more points (three goals and a pair of assists) in the final game of the year.

However, those aren’t the only names responsible for title number eight. Lacrosse, after all, is played 12-on-12, and four players alone can’t win a game, let alone the national title. This piece isn’t meant to diminish the contributions of the aforementioned four, but merely to shine the championship spotlights a little brighter on some of the lesser-known contributors.

Emerson Bohlig (sophomore midfielder)

Stats: one goal on three shots, four ground balls

The sophomore from California has started exactly zero of her 36 career appearances at Northwestern. However, she was the first player head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller brought off the bench during Sunday’s national championship game, and the move paid dividends.

Before last week, Bohlig’s best game on defense was in February of 2022, where she picked up two ground balls and caused a turnover against a Marquette team that would finish the season 8-10. On Sunday, in the national championship game, she blew that performance out of the water.

Bohlig was all over the field against Boston College, forcing four ground balls, which doubled her career high. Perhaps none was bigger than the pickup she made with 5:49 to go in the third frame. The Eagles’ Belle Smith committed a turnover in the attacking area, and Bohlig picked it up and began pushing the other way. 25 seconds later, Taylor was breaking ankles and putting the ball in the back of the net.

Aside from another ground ball pickup in the fourth frame that led to a goal, Bohlig was also able to get on the scoreboard herself. Early in the third frame, Bohlig had Boston College’s Emily Welch on her, a defender who had caused 13 turnovers on the year. Bohlig attacked Welch straight on, then sharply pivoted and spun left. The move left Welch sprawled on the turf with her legs out from under her, and Bohlig with a clear path to the goal. She easily converted for her fifth goal of the year.

Jane Hansen (senior midfielder)

Stats: two ground balls, two caused turnovers

Perhaps no player better exemplifies the lacrosse team’s struggle to get back to the top of the mountain than Hansen. Hansen came to Evanston with a sparkling pedigree: twice a high school All-American, the seventh-ranked overall recruit, and two cousins that had played for Hiller and won a combined seven national titles. However, things went sideways, and Hansen ended up not playing at all last year.

As the all-time leader in scoring for her high school, Hansen could have easily looked to go somewhere else that would allow her to score more often. Instead, she began focusing on defense and the result was revelatory: 27 ground balls and 23 caused turnovers. Those metrics put her third on the team in combined ground balls and caused turnovers, behind only Samantha White and Kendall Halpern, both of whom are listed at defender.

In the second quarter, Hansen poked the ball away from Courtney Weeks, a player who had committed just 21 turnovers on the year before the title game. In the third, Sydney Scales, who played incredibly on defense, tried to clear the ball. Unfortunately for Scales, Hansen was in the area and poked the ball away. And on top of all that, Hansen recovered both of the turnovers she caused.

Carleigh Mahoney (junior defender)

Stats: two ground balls, two caused turnovers

Unlike the first two players listed, Mahoney is a starter. In fact, she has been for some time, with 30 starts in her last 35 appearances. However, Mahoney is one of the lesser-known figures on the defensive side, with players like Halpern and White often garnering the headlines.

Mahoney certainly made her presence known on Sunday. Like Hansen, Mahoney closed the day with two caused turnovers and two ground balls. One of them was part of the first quarter lockdown the Wildcats put on. Kayla Martello was one of the few Boston College players who was able to match the Wildcats’ intensity on offense, converting a hat trick, but Mahoney easily caused a turnover on her to prevent a BC attack.

In the third quarter, Mahoney set her sights on bigger prey: McKenna Davis, who finished second in the nation in assists this year with 62. Mahoney easily took the ball from Davis on the Eagles’ opening possession, and the ensuing Northwestern possession resulted in the Bohlig goal. The best part? Mahoney, Halpern and White are all returning next year.

Molly Laliberty (graduate goalkeeper)

Stats: three saves, three ground balls

And finally, we go to the transfer from Tufts. While at Tufts, Laliberty was twice the Division III goalkeeper of the year and finished her time in Boston with 405 saves. However, in both her junior and senior years, the Jumbos fell short in the final four.

She came to Northwestern to win a national title, but things appeared bleak at first. During her first three games, Laliberty saved just 31.1% of the shots she faced and gave up 39 goals. However, she picked it up after that. After the Marquette game (her fourth on the team), she went on a nine-game streak of only allowing single-digit goals. She finished the year with 16 such games, including a five-game stretch to close the season.

Her masterclass was against Denver, in which she saved eight shots and had a save percentage of 61.5%. She had just three saves against Boston College, but two of them were in the first quarter, including one of a free position shot. Two of the three ground balls she picked up were also in the first half. When the team needed her, she turned the goalkeeping up to 11 and made every save she needed.

In closing, there’s a reason this Northwestern team closed the year on a 21-game winning streak. The stars certainly shined bright all year long, especially in the biggest games. But stars aren’t the only thing you can see in the night sky. There’s plenty of planets, comets and meteors out there as well. This piece is for them, and a reminder that all of their names will forever be etched in Northwestern lore, not merely as great players, but as champions.