Lacrosse: No. 3 Northwestern attack relies on creativity, depth to win games


Alyce Brown/The Daily Northwestern

Graduate attacker Lauren Gilbert and sophomore attacker Leah Holmes embrace after a goal. The duo have both played important roles for NU’s offense this season.

Charlotte Varnes, Social Media Editor


Just six minutes into playing Rutgers, Northwestern was up by two and looking to build momentum.

When graduate attacker Lauren Gilbert found sophomore midfielder Kendall Halpern in the eight-meter arc, the duo did just that. Halpern, faced with three defenders closing in, chose the creative route. She tossed the ball behind her back, notching her first goal of the season and extending the Wildcats’ lead to three.

Halpern’s goal was just one of several recent instances where NU’s offense has worked together with flare and creativity. Sophomore attacker Leah Holmes went for a behind-the-back goal against Dartmouth last month. Junior attacker Erin Coykendall dished out no-look assists against Penn State last week and Rutgers on Thursday. Against San Diego State, senior midfielder Elle Hansen scored in a nearly no-look, above-the-head fashion.

Encouraging risk-taking — like through crafty, no-look passes and behind-the-back goals — has been a priority for the Wildcats’ attack this season.

“We don’t want to create a culture of perfectionism where people are afraid to make a mistake,” Gilbert said. “We’re rewarding and acknowledging when people take good risks, whether it works out or not.

Coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said this also stems from a focus on having fun, which encourages athletes to play fearlessly. The close bond and trust among team members helps as well, she said, because players know someone else will have their back if their efforts don’t pan out.

This mentality and the Wildcats’ depth on offense have been key to keeping their attack firing without senior standout Izzy Scane, who is out for the season with an ACL injury. Her absence has caused plenty of adjusting, Amonte Hiller said, but the team has come into its own.

“We have a lot of different people stepping up, filling the roles, filling gaps that Izzy left,” Amonte Hiller said. “It’s pretty exciting to see them developing and getting better.”

Gilbert, Coykendall and graduate midfielder Jill Girardi — all veteran, experienced starters — lead NU in goals this season. A deep roster of talented attackers and midfielders behind it have also been key to the Wildcats’ success. Against Rutgers on Thursday, ten different players scored for the Wildcats. In NU’s 20-8 rout of San Diego State on Sunday, 11 players notched goals. Across the two games, three different players scored their first goal of the season.

Freshmen midfielders Samantha Smith and Sammy White are two of the younger players stepping up on attack for the Wildcats. Smith and White tallied one goal each against the Scarlet Knights, and Smith recorded two more against the Aztecs. Both also took draws against San Diego State, with Smith winning four and White winning five.

The pair has been “very dynamic,” Amonte Hiller said. She said White was switched to defense mid-season, where her play has been “phenomenal” as she has even managed to score goals. Amonte Hiller said she’s enjoyed seeing the duo flourish and the Wildcats will need their skills as they move toward the postseason.

The combination of core veterans and young, hungry attackers has made for a lethal, loaded NU offense this season. The Wildcats currently rank sixth nationally in scoring offense and points per game. Beyond the stats, its crafty plays have garnered national attention and been part of its offensive dominance.

The team has grown into its depth this season, Gilbert said, which has been especially fun to experience.

“I feel like I’ve been part of a big growth spurt this year, which is really exciting,” Gilbert said. “That’s what we’re going to need down the stretch.”

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Twitter: @charvarnes11

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