Season Preview: Lacrosse
By Sophia Vlahakis
Heading into the season ranked fourth by the IWLCA, Northwestern has one of the toughest schedules in all of college lacrosse. Familiar faces will be missed, but head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller has a team that’s capable of replicating the offensive production and ball control that the program has grown used to.
The 2022 season started with so much promise, but ended in devastating fashion for Northwestern. Playing their entire collegiate careers for the ‘Cats, the return of graduate students Lauren Gilbert, Jill Girardi, Brennan Dwyer and Ally Palermo set up the perfect opportunity for Northwestern to capture its first championship since 2012. Instead, a flawless half of Wildcat lacrosse was erased when No. 1 North Carolina came back from a massive fourth quarter deficit to shock Northwestern in the Final Four.
Northwestern’s grad-attack tandem of Gilbert and Girardi played a huge part in its offensive dominance last season. Girardi excelled on the circle for the ‘Cats with 183 draw controls, which was the second most in the nation. Gilbert and Girardi also led the team in goals with 79 and 52, respectively. Their absence is a notable one, but key players can be expected to step up and fill it.
The return of Izzy Scane, who missed all of last year with an injury, is perhaps the biggest storyline for Northwestern lacrosse. She was named a Tewaaraton Finalist for her historic 2021 campaign, where she put up 98 goals — a program single-season record. There are big expectations for Scane, who is the only preseason All-American on the roster.
Erin Coykendall is another attacker who can easily lead this team. She led the ‘Cats with 37 assists last season and is the highest returning scorer with 45 goals. The senior play-maker has great field vision and a high lacrosse IQ — if she’s not scoring, she is getting it to someone who will.
Big Ten Freshman of the Year Samantha White can be a menace for years to come. She is as versatile and dynamic of a player as it gets, appearing at all three positions and in all 21 games during her freshman season. Her 36 ground balls and 45 draw controls were the second and third most on the team. She also notched six goals and three assists. White can do it all but will likely be anchoring the defense with veteran presence Allie Berkery.
On the circle, the ‘Cats will also rely on sophomore Samantha Smith and freshman Madison Taylor. Collecting more than 300 draws and 200 points in high school, Taylor is a two-time high school All-American who can be a huge asset in the midfield.
Amonte Hiller also returns Elle Hansen, Leah Holmes and Carleigh Mahoney who could have breakout offensive seasons. Even after missing six games last year, Hansen put up 18 goals and 14 assists. Holmes appeared in every game last year on attack and scored 16 goals, including one in all four NCAA tournament games. Mahoney may be in for a major junior season, following a year where she recorded 20 goals and played in every game.
Hailey Rhatigan and freshmen Carli Fleisher and Abby LoCascio bring in new talent that can be a huge help on the attack. Rhatigan, a fifth-year, transferred to Northwestern from Mercer, where she racked- up 93 goals – the second-most in the country.
There is a little uncertainty surrounding the defense with the departures of Palermo and goalkeeper Madison Doucette. A starting goalie has not yet been named, but Molly Laliberty, who transferred from Tufts, can bring experience in the cage.
With the added absence of Gilbert, Girardi and Dwyer and playing nine top-20 teams, the Wildcats have their work cut out from them. Yet, this is a roster fully capable of leading the nation in goals, and if players progress and play as expected, a deep tournament run could be made.
The Wildcats will need to keep up a consistent high-level of play with games against North Carolina, Maryland, Boston College and Stony Brook — all of which USA Lacrosse placed in front of Northwestern in its top five.
North Carolina is losing staple players on both the offense and defense but has a deep, talented roster. Maryland returns the IWLCA Goalie of the Year Emily Sterling and grabbed draw control savant Marge Donovan from Princeton. Boston College lost Charlotte North, arguably the greatest female lacrosse player of all time, who ran its attack for the past three seasons but features an incredible defense. Stony Brook is anxious for its first Final Four appearance in program history and has Ellie Masera, one of the best midfielders in the country.
The Wildcats start their season off strong against an impressive Syracuse team on February 11. With five preseason All-Americans, Syracuse will be among the best in the nation. But, again, so should Northwestern.