Northwestern Women’s Lacrosse Season Recap
By Ashley Tumpowsky
Northwestern Women’s Lacrosse has been a dominant force. They ascended to the top of the women’s lacrosse world by winning five national championships in a row from 2005-2009, with multiple players winning the Tewaaraton award during that time. While the team has had continued success since then (including back-to-back national championships in 2011 and 2012), the women’s lacrosse landscape has changed tremendously. With more players and teams than ever before, recently the national title has seemed just out of reach for the Wildcats – at least until 2023.
In the 2023 season, the Northwestern Women’s Lacrosse team altered its recruiting strategy to regain its position as one of the top teams in its sport. With the advent of the transfer portal, the ‘Cats brought in a couple of experienced, graduate players to add to its core team. The transfer players not only added talent to the roster, but also played a critical role in Northwestern’s championship run which resulted in bringing back the trophy to Evanston for the first time since 2012.
Division III players Molly Laliberty and Hailey Rhatigan quickly stepped into their specific roles, becoming game changers on an already star-studded team. Laliberty, a goalie from Tuffs, and Rhatigan, an attack player from Mercer, helped fill gaps on the roster caused by the graduation of players such as Lauren Gilbert and Madison Doucette.
As the season began, many wondered how fast a team built from such a wide array of returners, transfers, and first-year players could come together and build chemistry in such a short period of time. The return of All-American Izzy Scane was also met with great anticipation as she would take the field for the first time after missing a year due to injury. Would Scane be the same player she was before? Would the team rally around her? Would the team build chemistry with a solid core in order to contend for the Final Four, if not for the National Championship.
After a slight stumble to Syracuse to start the season, the Wildcats quickly regrouped and started to show their dominance in the conference and in the nation. Northwestern went on a ridiculous 21-game win streak, and the ‘Cats came to the national Final Four with tremendous momentum. The formula for victory could be found all across the field. They outscored their opponents by almost 200 goals (373 to 196), won around 100 more draw controls than their opponents, and had a 47% save percentage in goal. Head Coach Kelly Amonte Hiller’s team was firing on all cylinders.
As for specific players, although Scane was often double-teamed by opponents, she finished the season at 99 goals, just short of the 100 goal mark. Fellow attack player Erin Coykendall matured into a great distributor, racking up a team-high 50 assists and also contributing 56 goals. Rhatigan proved she could play at the D1 level, finishing with 62 goals on the season and many highlight-worthy plays. First-year Madison Taylor also emerged as a strong player as the season carried on, finishing with 53 goals and 17 assists herself. This explosive Northwestern offense, with so many different weapons, proved to be too much for most defenses to handle. No team in the country was ever able to truly control and contain the firepower coming from the Wildcat front.
But it was not just the offense that allowed the ‘Cats to win it all. Players such as Jane Hansen, Samantha White, Allie Berkery, and Carleigh Mahoney anchored the Northwestern defense, becoming players Amonte Hiller could rely on day in and day out. This brick wall of defense made it very difficult for opponents to get open shot opportunities and limited transition points. Add that to a 47% goal save percentage from Laliberty, roughly 5% higher than in previous years, and you had a team that seemed almost impossible to score against.
Northwestern’s explosive offense, steadfast defense, and experienced goalie made the perfect formula for success. The 2023 season ended with the ‘Cats as Big Ten regular season leaders, Big Ten Tournament Champions, and most importantly – National Champions.