Northwestern’s lacrosse program has a history of turning out good seasons. The trophy case is nearly full to bursting, with eight national titles, 14 Tewaaraton finalists, six Tewaaraton winners, and 30 first team All-Americans. In this piece, I’m just focusing on Kelly Amonte Hiller’s 440 games at the helm, during which all of those aforementioned awards have been attained.
So, with apologies to every player who went through the program before 2002, let’s begin the countdown. First, some honorable mentions: Hannah Nielsen in 2007, Hilary Bowen in 2008, Shannon Smith in 2012 and Morgan Lathrop in 2007. All those players were key contributors on title teams, but just missed the top 15.
15. 2008 Hilary Bowen (Team: 21-1, 6-0 Conference, National Champions)
Bowen is listed as both a midfielder and attacker on the 2008 team roster, and her impact was felt all over. As a junior, Bowen was a destroyer of worlds on offense, finishing the year with 81 goals and 101 points. She also made her mark doing the dirty work as well, finishing the year with 22 ground balls and 23 draw controls.
The metric of 81 goals is still top five in Wildcat annals, and her 14 free position goals are a tie for 11th in program history. Bowen knew when to show up all season long, scoring six goals in the opening game and a hat trick in the 10-6 victory in the championship game. She would finish the year with 18 hat tricks, and earned a Second Team All-American spot.
14. 2022 Lauren Gilbert (Team: 15-1, 11-0 Conference, NCAA Semifinalists)
While the resume of this season and of Gilbert herself (semifinals loss, no nominations for the Tewaaraton or Honda Awards) seems lacking, the context of it bumps it up. Remember, Izzy Scane missed all of the 2022 season with a torn ACL. Gilbert was somehow able to lead the team to the cusp of the finals and put up a 106-point season as well.
Other marks from Gilbert’s run through the Big Ten (79 goals, 26 assists, 14 hat tricks) include the sixth-highest mark in goals in school history, and that number of 106 points sits at 10th. Gilbert also had five goals in the semifinal match in which the Wildcats were a whisper away from toppling the eventual champion North Carolina Tar Heels.
13. 2023 Erin Coykendall (Team: 21-1, 6-0 Conference, National Champions)
The second-best player on a team that may have re-birthed a dynasty slots in here. Coykendall was a deserving finalist for the Tewaaraton Award and an easy choice for First Team All-America. She put up 58 goals and 50 assists on the year, and had 13 games with five or more points.
The assists mark is tied for fifth best in program history, and the point total of 108 is eighth. Coykendall also knew when to turn on the afterburners and play lights out. She had 17 points in the four NCAA Tournament games and was easily named to the All-Tournament Team in the Wildcats’ first national title run since 2012.
12. 2019 Selena Lasota (Team: 16-5, 5-1 Conference, NCAA Semifinalists)
Lasota was arguably the best player in the program during its decade-long drought, and 2019 was her magnum opus. Bowen’s 2008 mark of 81 goals held second place in program history for over a decade, and then Lasota began her senior season. She finished the year with 85, slotting just one goal short of Shannon Smith in 2011 (we will get to her later).
Lasota was obviously recognized nationally for the offensive outburst. She was a finalist for both the Tewaaraton and Honda Awards, the first Wildcat to be named a Tewaaraton finalist since Taylor Thornton in 2012 (also coming up on this list). She also was able to bring Northwestern to the Final Four for the first time since 2014, thanks partially to her six game-winning goals.
11. 2010 Katrina Dowd (Team: 20-2, 7-0 Conference, NCAA Runner-Up)
Dowd was the latest in a long line of superstars in Northwestern’s half decade of dominance. 2010 was her team, as each of the previous three squads she had been on had a Tewaaraton winner on the roster. She lived up to expectations, taking home the honors of Honda finalist, Tewaaraton finalist, WomensLacrosse.com Attacker of the Year, and First Team All-American.
Dowd’s 110 points and 77 goals are both seventh in program history, and she did bring the program to the cusp of its sixth straight national title. Unfortunately, she and the ‘Cats ran out of gas in the title game, with Dowd garnering just one point in a 13-11 loss. However, the rest of her close to the season was strong, with a hat trick in each of the five previous games.
10. 2012 Taylor Thornton (Team: 21-1, 4-1 Conference, National Champions)
Thornton’s claim to fame is that she was the first Tewaaraton finalist ever to hail from Texas. The Lone Star State legend more than earned her candidacy, making her impact felt offensively and defensively. She added 33 goals to her 58 ground balls, 71 draw controls and 28 caused turnovers on the year.
The draw controls number may seem low, but Thornton was a beast when she had to be, garnering nine against Ohio State. Her 58 ground balls is still tied for second in program history, probably because she had 12 games with three or more. And just to prove she could score too, she had the game-winning goal in the national title victory over Syracuse.
9. 2007 Kristen Kjellman (Team: 21-1, 6-0 Conference, National Champions)
Kjellman is arguably the greatest player to ever don the purple and white for the Lake Show, and rest assured that this is not her last appearances on this list. Her 2007 season will always be one for the ages, as she became the first player ever (in either men’s or women’s lacrosse) to win back-to-back Tewaaraton Awards. She also took home her third consecutive Honda Award, and oh yeah, a third straight national title.
The reason she falls this low is because the stats simply weren’t that impressive. Kjellman was the only player in the country that year with 60 or more goals and 80 or more draw controls (66 and 80, respectively), but neither of those marks remain in the top 10 in Wildcat record books. There were three other First Team All-Americans on this squad, but it was Kjellman’s team, and she finished her career on top — a well-deserved placement for someone whose teams went an astonishing 77-5 in her four years at Northwestern.
8. 2021 Izzy Scane (Team: 15-1, 11-0 Conference, NCAA Semifinalists)
If Scane isn't the best player in Northwestern history, she is at the very least the best in the last 15 years. 2021 was her first ascension to the pantheon, during which she scored 98 goals, chipped in 26 assists and picked up 18 ground balls. Even more stunning: all those marks were achieved in just 16 games, meaning Scane is still first in program history in both points and goals per game.
Scane also got better as the year went on. She closed the season with four straight games of seven or more points, including a trip to the semifinals for the second straight time in a full season. She nearly took home the Tewaaraton, but would have to wait another healthy season to finally seal her title as the best in the game right now.
7. 2008 Hannah Nielsen (Team: 21-1, 6-0 Conference, National Champions)
This season officially saw the passing of the torch from Kjellman to Nielsen. While Nielsen was a First Team All-American in 2007, those Wildcats were still 100% Kjellman’s team. 2008 was the first year with Nielsen at the controls, and she steered them with aplomb, garnering 51 points and 63 assists.
Her mark of 118 points remains sixth in program history, and the 63 assists are still in the top three. Nielsen was also the first player in Wildcat history to tally 100 or more points in consecutive seasons. She won IWLCA Midfielder of the Year and capped the season with a trifecta of both goals and assists en route to Northwestern’s fourth straight title.
6. 2008 Christy Finch (Team: 21-1, 6-0 Conference, National Champions)
The final entry from a squad that posted a point differential of +191 and was only really challenged four times all year. Finch is almost certainly the best defender in Northwestern history, accumulating exactly 183 caused turnovers and 183 ground balls over the course of her illustrious career. 2008 was her final and best season.
During that run, she led the nation in caused turnovers with 70 and also picked up 58 ground balls. She had four games with five or more ground balls and also found time to win 25 draw controls. Finch scored two goals all season — one in the opening game, and one in the national title victory. She left collegiate athletics with an 83-3 record and four national titles.
We’re getting into the territory of legends by now. This is the top of the top: every single player in this top five won both a National Player of the Year Award and the national title. There’s no room for failure or questioning now. Each of these five seasons involved this player being unquestionably the best all year long. We start with maybe the greatest player in program history.
5. 2005 Kristen Kjellman (Team: 21-0, 6-0 Conference, National Champions)
The fact that Kjellman didn’t win the Tewaaraton Award this season is highway robbery. The East Coast bias would take another year to break through, but that shouldn’t take away from Kjellman’s 59 goals, 32 assists and 65 draw controls. She also garnered 46 ground balls, still the ninth-highest mark in program history.
Kjellman was just five points behind Tewaaraton winner Katie Christ of Duke, but Christ failed to hold up her end of the bargain. While she was eliminated in the semifinals at the hands of Virginia, Kjellman put up five goals in the final game of the year to bring the Wildcats their first national title. That award still belongs in Evanston, but the first national championship in team history is a nice consolation prize.
4. 2009 Hannah Nielsen (Team: 23-0, 6-0 Conference, National Champions)
Remember that passing of the torch that happened in 2008? Nielsen held onto it with even more gusto in 2009. Her 83 assists were an NCAA record at the time, and her 142 points were second in NCAA history and remain the top mark in Wildcat lore. She totaled a mind-boggling 10 assists against Duquesne.
This was arguably peak Northwestern lacrosse, and Nielsen was the indomitable engine. Her assist record is still tops in program history by 14, and her points per game mark is still third. In a blowout against North Carolina to earn the program’s fifth consecutive national title, she had a casual six assists, a mark she reached or exceeded three other times that year. She also went back-to-back for both the Tewaaraton and Honda Awards.
3. 2011 Shannon Smith (Team: 21-2, 3-2 Conference, National Champions)
After a stunning loss to Maryland in the 2010 national title game, the program needed to regroup and rebound. Smith, a First Team All-American in 2010, was the key to that resilience. She led the nation in points with 128 and set career highs in ground balls and draw controls with 25 and 39, respectively.
Smith became the third player in program history to win both the Tewaaraton and Honda Awards, behind Kjellman and Nielsen. She scored 18 goals in her four tournament games and was named the NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player. Her season marks in goals (86), assists (42) and points (128) all are still top 10 in Northwestern history. She is also the only Wildcat to win the trifecta of the Tewaaraton, Honda and NCAA Tournament MOP Awards.
2. 2006 Kristen Kjellman (Team: 20-1, 5-0 Conference, National Champions)
If 2005 was highway robbery, 2006 was a slightly delayed coronation. Kjellman became the first player on a non-East Coast team to win the Tewaaraton Award after putting up a career-high 98 points and 91 draw controls. Kjellman was a scoring machine, amassing 17 games with a hat trick or better. She also picked up 55 ground balls.
That ground ball figure is still sixth in Northwestern history, and her 72 goals are 11th in program annals. The Wildcats were the top-scoring offense in the nation and avenged a loss to Duke in the semifinals in an overtime stunner. Kjellman had four goals in that upset to push the Wildcats back to the title game, where they gutted out a second national championship.
1. 2023 Izzy Scane (Team: 22-1, 6-0 Conference, National Champions)
This was an extremely tough call, and is almost certainly tainted by some recency bias. However, Scane most definitely deserves this honor to go along with all the other ones she’s already received. Those include the Tewaaraton (the sixth in program history), the IWLCA Player and Attacker of the Year, a First Team All-America slot, and the NCAA Tournament’s MOP award, with the potential for a Honda Award coming as well.
Scane’s 99 goals are a program record (breaking her own record from 2021), and her 134 points fall just eight short of Nielsen’s program record. Despite missing two games, Scane led the country in goals and scoring, and garnered 26 points in the NCAA Tournament. She closed the season with eight points against Denver and six points against Boston College, both of which were blowout wins that brought Northwestern its first title since 2012. And the best part? Scane is coming back for one last ride.