6 Things to Watch for Northwestern Lacrosse in 2021
By Jack Lido
The prognosticators at Nike/US Lacrosse have ranked the Northwestern Wildcats as the preseason No. 6 team in the nation. They – along with the rest of the lacrosse world – believe another Final Four could be in the near future for Kelly Amonte Hiller’s squad. In the spirit of the ranking, we’re going through the six most important aspects of a Northwestern team we haven’t seen in 11 months (now, nobody look up InsideLacrosse’s ranking, “4 things to know” just sounds too lazy).
1. Offense, offense and some more offense
Goalscoring was Northwestern’s specialty in 2019 and 2020, and there’s no indication it’s going to stop in 2021. After finishing 2019 third in the country with 17.43 goals per game, the Wildcats took the bar and shot it into the sun, with 21.57 goals per game last year to lead the country. Albeit a short sample size, the number crushed the official NCAA record for goalscoring, set at 18.45 by Jacksonville in 2018. Naturally, that number was inflated by a strong non-conference performance, but to quell any doubts of Northwestern’s dominance, I point to my favorite statistic, from the 2020 season: Even if Northwestern scored zero goals against Detroit Mercy (yes, instead of 30, ZERO), the Wildcats would still have scored 17.28 goals per game, the ninth highest number in NCAA history.
2. Don’t blink
In Northwestern’s six games against Power Five opponents, they were able to score within 30 seconds of the draw control whistle 26 times. Let me be clear, this isn’t just scoring within 30 seconds of winning the possession, this is: whistle blows (clock starts), Northwestern wins the draw, Northwestern scores a goal (time!). The battery that powers this buzzsaw is Brennan Dwyer. A 2020 Third-Team All-America, Dwyer is one of the fastest draws in the nation, averaging 9.86 draws controls per game in 2020, third in the nation. She etched her name in the record book with a Northwestern program record 21 draw controls in a single game against Arizona State. The Wildcats embarrassed the Sun Devils (who are no slouch, finishing the season at 5-3), scoring an absurd eight goals in the first 4:37. Combining Dwyer’s speed, draw control prowess and passing, expect the ‘Cats to continue moving the ball at a rapid pace toward the back of the net.
3. A balanced attack, led by a three-headed monster
We’ve gone through a litany of superlatives for this Northwestern team, but perhaps the most impressive part of its 2020 offense was it – get this – lost the best goal scorer in program history. Northwestern fans remember Selena Lasota fondly, who poured in 85 goals in 2019 en route to a Big Ten Championship and the Final Four. Lasota, the fourth leading goal scorer in NCAA history with 287 career goals, tended to take the ball first and ask questions later (scoring in between). It was easy to worry about where NU’s offense would come from in 2020, but the three-headed monster of Izzy Scane, Lauren Gilbert and Lindsey McKone was up to the task. The three combined for 72 goals on the season, and all three were on pace for over 40 goals in the regular season alone. All three return in 2021 with the potential to once again be the best goal scoring trio in the Big Ten (they combined for 10.34 goals per game, nearly two goals better than the next best trio.) Add in the play of Megan Kinna, Taylor Pinzone, Jane Hansen and Dylan Amonte, who are all returning and scored at least six goals last season, and Northwestern is poised to have one of the most balanced and high-powered attacks in the nation.
4. The schedule is thoroughly unusual, but are upsets more or less likely?
The Big Ten’s women’s lacrosse schedule is certainly odd, although not unique. Most olympic sports in the conference have adopted a “two-for-one” approach, with one team traveling to another and playing two games in one weekend. Four of Northwestern’s 12 games will occur after one day’s rest (Friday and Sunday), and so far we haven’t gotten a large enough sample size to show if this benefits the home or away team, the favorite or underdog, etc. In theory though, it provides an opportunity for both teams to make adjustments. Northwestern is the higher ranked team in each of its matchups this season, so Kelly Amonte Hiller could out-strategize the opposition twice, simply learning from a Friday win and adjusting into a Sunday win. However, we could also see talented unranked teams like Johns Hopkins or Penn State lose on Friday and learn from their mistakes enough to pull off a Sunday upset. The powerhouse Wildcats certainly hope for the former.
5. It’s Mueller time
“Impact transfer” is a gross understatement when it comes to Sammy Mueller. After three and a half incredible years at the University of Virginia, the younger sister of former Northwestern defender Ally Mueller is coming to Evanston for a graduate year. Mueller’s accomplishments can’t be counted on two hands, but here’s the shortened resume: ACC Freshman of the Year, three-time All-American, three-time NCAA Tournament participant, sixth all-time in goals in Virginia history. Expect the versatile midfielder to stuff the stats sheet like the stuffed deep dish pizza she will learn to love, whilst still correctly placing it as the second best style of pizza (the Pelham, New York native grew up 45 minutes away from John’s of Bleecker Street by train).
6. Northwestern is looking for revenge, but it won’t get a chance until the postseason
One hill the Wildcats could not climb last season was defeating the top contenders in the country. Wins against Stanford, Arizona State and Duke look great, but Northwestern lost all three of its matchups with Top-10 opponents, Notre Dame, Syracuse and UNC. Northwestern won’t get a chance to avenge those losses in a conference-only regular season, but if it wants to play for a national championship in 2021, the ‘Cats will almost certainly have to go through at least one of those three teams. Don’t expect Northwestern to ignore its conference season, but the ‘Cats will definitely have an eye towards the postseason and the best three teams in the nation, UNC, Notre Dame and Syracuse.