It took over a decade, but Northwestern lacrosse finally returned to the mountaintop with a dominant championship win over Boston College last May. Eight months later, the squad took the field as defending national champions for the first time since 2013. The results showcased Northwestern’s capability to defend its title, but also some potential pitfalls that may prevent that. Here are three takeaways from Northwestern’s 26-22 exhibition victory over Stanford.
The offense is basically in full form
The Wildcats paced the nation last year in scoring, putting up 373 goals in 22 games. That 16.9 goals per game was a blistering clip that only one other squad (Richmond) was able to get within even half a goal per game of. And it did not take long for the scoring to get going on Sunday afternoon — the ‘Cats put up seven goals in the first frame, eight in the second and seven more in the third. While the team did take its foot off the gas pedal in the fourth quarter, 22 goals through three quarters is an encouraging sign.
It’s not unexpected that the offense looks this good this soon: after all, Izzy Scane and Erin Coykendall, the team’s two Tewaaraton finalists, came back for one last ride. But Hailey Rhatigan, the team’s second-leading scorer last year, did not have an extra year remaining, and Elle Hansen also graduated. With two players that combined for 86 goals and 26 assists gone, some offensive drop-off may have been expected. After Sunday, though, there may be no drop-off whatsoever — which is a scary sight to any Wildcat opponent. However...
The defense has a bit of work to do
Last year, the Wildcats ripped the postseason to shreds partially thanks to a dominant defense. The team played a combined six games in the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments and gave up double-digit goals in just one of those games (11 to Michigan, the same team they’d hold to seven goals just 10 days later). Molly Laliberty especially rose to a different stratosphere in the postseason. In those six games, she dropped her goals allowed average from 9.20 to 8.60, good enough for eighth nationally. She also upped her save percentage from 46.4% to 47.3% thanks to those six games, finishing 19th nationally in that category.
To be fair to Laliberty, not all of Stanford’s 22 goals were on her. The honorable-mention All-American allowed just five goals across the second and third quarters, allowing Northwestern to build a 22-12 lead heading into the final frame. During those last 15 minutes, backups came in all over the field for Northwestern, including at goal. But even so, 12 goals isn’t ideal when you consider that Northwestern didn’t give up that many for the last three months of last season. Until we see how the defense can perform in games that count, though, the 26-22 scoreline isn’t something that should cause that much consternation.
The new additions should provide a spark
If Wildcat fans have whiplash from trying to keep up with all the talent this team added in the offseason, no one can blame them for that. Just as an example of a new addition to the Lake Show, Mary Schumar is the all-time leader in assists at Marquette. Now that she’s a Wildcat, however, those assisting opportunities have taken a sharp decline — or at least they did on Sunday afternoon. It’s an embarrassment of riches for Kelly Amonte Hiller and her staff, and juggling both the new additions and the returning superstars is going to be arguably one of their toughest tasks this year.
There were three additions, though, that should make an instant impact. Two of them already have experience competing for national championships in purple and white, as field hockey stars Alia Marshall and Lindsey Frank both joined the Lake Show in the offseason. Marshall was a 2023 All-American in field hockey, and Frank, a grad transfer from Richmond, scored 164 goals in four seasons with the Spiders. But it's not just the veteran additions who can make an impact.
Madison Smith (sister of national championship hero Samantha Smith) received a lot of action in the draw circle on Sunday afternoon. Last year, Madison Taylor provided a burst to the team’s attack as just a freshman, gathering 53 goals and playing in every game. This year, the ‘Cats could be relying on another Madison to take that role. Ideally and very possibly, the results this year will match the ones from last year.