Lacrosse: Northwestern’s 2022 recruiting class may be what lifts the team over its Final Four hill this spring

A woman in a gray shirt yells in a grass field.

Daily file photo by Melody Song

Coach Kelly Amonte Hiller shouts instructions from the sideline. Amonte Hiller won her seventh national title in 2012 and continues to strive for the elusive eighth.

Jake Epstein, Assistant Sports Editor

No. 5 Northwestern is no stranger to the bright lights — the team thrives on the nation’s biggest stage.

The Wildcats (0-1, 0-0 Big Ten) have made three consecutive NCAA Final Four appearances, but the last time coach Kelly Amonte Hiller’s team progressed to the NCAA Championship game was in 2012. 

Last season, NU’s offense paved the way for a deep playoff run. The Cats tallied 333 goals in 2022 and gave up just 247. 

However, the team bid farewell to three of its top five scorers at the season’s end. Lauren Gilbert, Jill Girardi and Brennan Dwyer provided an attacking threat whenever they took the field for NU. The squad’s defensive anchor, All-Big Ten star Ally Palermo, also departed for graduation. 

With NU in need of a new defensive cornerstone this year, the Cats must now look for other key contributors to step up in their place

Despite the flurry of talent that departed the program, the Cats remain stacked with starpower. Senior attacker Erin Coykendall, graduate student goalkeeper Molly Laliberty, graduate student attacker Izzy Scane and sophomore midfielder and defender Samantha White all received Tewaaraton Award Watch List nods in preseason — meaning they’re all in consideration for college lacrosse’s top female player. 

Coykendall adds a much-needed veteran presence offensively, as she can score and assist at will. Laliberty was a standout at Division III powerhouse Tufts, where she picked up both conference and national accolades, including Division III Goalie of the Year. 

If Scane can approach her record-breaking scoring ability of 2021, NU will be in tremendous shape offensively. Meanwhile, White is the ultimate hybrid player, capable of logging minutes at attack, midfield or defense. The second-year stud makes her presence felt on every inch of the field for the Cats.

NU proved it can still score in bunches in its season-opener, firing 15 goals against then-No. 5 Syracuse. The defensive effort, however, left much to be desired. Although the Cats held the Orange to just four goals when the two sides met in the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight, Syracuse converted 16 goals in the Saturday tie. 

Amonte Hiller’s team can certainly right the ship in its upcoming slate, especially if it leans upon White, the 2022 Big-Ten Freshman of the Year, to take charge of protecting Laliberty’s net. NU should also reap the benefits of a talented 2022 recruiting class, where several players appear ready to immediately step into the rotation. 

Seven freshmen arrived in Evanston as part of the Cats’ 2022 recruiting class, but none stepped into the fold quite like midfielder Madison Taylor.

In her first collegiate contest, Taylor scored five goals on seven shots. The two-time high school All-American formed a two-headed monster of a goal-scoring duo with Scane, and Taylor didn’t let the pressure of a debut disrupt her collected presence from the eight-meter. While she will have to clean up the turnovers, Taylor may be the missing puzzle piece that can carry NU beyond the Final Four.

Hailing from Parkland, Florida, freshman attacker Carli Fleisher and freshman midfielder Rachel Weiner were both highly-touted signings for the Cats. Fleisher was named the 2022 USA Lacrosse National High School Player of the Year, and Weiner snapped just about every scoring record at North Broward Prep. While the pair didn’t feature in the season opener, the club teammates at national powerhouse Florida Select add even more offensive options to a team that knows how to light up the scoreboard.

Inside Lacrosse ranked freshman attacker Abby LoCascio the No. 10 player in her recruiting class, and freshman attacker Lucy Munro featured briefly in the Syracuse matchup, winning a ground ball. 

While the coaching staff brought in a star-studded crew of offensive talent, Amonte Hiller made sure to cash-in on several defensive reinforcements.

Boston College, the 2021 national champions, pursued a certain high profile New England recruit, but freshman defender Kathryn Welch decided to take her talents to North Beach — or at least the practice facility and home field adjacent to the icy shore of Lake Michigan. Plus, high school All-American goalkeeper Francesca Argentieri provides much-needed depth between the pipes. Argentieri likely won’t see significant action this season in a three-woman goalkeeper room, but the netminder adds stability at a crucial position for years to come.

With the emergence of Taylor as a breakout star, and the potential of any one of these talented All-American recruits to come into their own this season, NU has as good a shot as any team of taking home the national title. 

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Twitter: @jakeepste1n

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