Lacrosse: What To Watch For: No. 2 Northwestern readies for road rumble at Rutgers


Daily file photo by Seeger Gray

Senior attacker Erin Coykendall looks toward the cage against Penn State. Coykendall tallied a team-high four assists against the Nittany Lions on March 30.

Jake Epstein, Assistant Sports Editor

A week after a second-half scoring surge against then-No. 18 Penn State, No. 2 Northwestern will travel to Piscataway, New Jersey, for a conference clash at Rutgers on Thursday. The Wildcats (11-1, 3-0 Big Ten) carry an 11-game win streak and expect a convincing victory over the Scarlet Knights (4-6, 0-4 Big Ten).

NU presently possesses pole position in the conference standings, but while No. 10 Maryland remains unbeaten in Big Ten play, every game holds major seeding implications for the conference tournament later this month.

Rutgers aims to flip its fortune and nab an elusive first conference win at SHI Stadium. Still, the Cats must pick up where they left off in Ryan Fieldhouse to jumpstart a successful three-game road trip — and soundly defeat the Scarlet Knights.

Here’s a few factors to focus on as NU attempts to extend its winning streak to 12 games:

Matchup to Monitor: Izzy Scane vs. Meghan Ball

Graduate student attacker Izzy Scane appears unstoppable, as the Tewaaraton Award favorite possesses an insatiable appetite for goals. While opposition coaches have tried to halt her high scoring antics with face guards and double teams throughout her remarkable campaign, they have failed to silence her. Scane capitalizes off the tightest windows of space to launch missiles toward the top of the cage, despite the defensive looks thrown her way. 

The nation’s leading scorer — with 60 goals in 10 appearances — will once again be the focus of the Cats’ attack Thursday, but she’ll be challenged by a staggering shot stopper seeking to sidetrack the “Scane Train.”

Scarlet Knight defender Meghan Ball is the cornerstone of her team’s defense and overall success. The two-time First Team All-Big Ten selection has tallied a team-high 40 caused turnovers in 10 starts and serves as a crucial component in Rutgers’ draw circle. If the Scarlet Knights are to keep the contest competitive, Ball must throw Scane off her typical game with persistent pressure.

Rutgers’ recent losing run:

The Scarlet Knights’ swords seem rather dull recently. The New Jersey outfit opened its conference campaign with a close-run 9-7 loss to Penn State March 11. Since then, Rutgers defeated Vanderbilt 12-10, but Maryland and Michigan trounced the Scarlet Knights in back-to-back bludgeonings. 

While Rutgers coach Melissa Lehman’s team held a six-goal advantage in its last outing at Johns Hopkins Saturday, the group conceded seven straight scores and dropped its third consecutive contest.

With a winless record in Big Ten play, the Scarlet Knights face stacked odds against a soaring squad.

Player to Watch: Senior attacker Erin Coykendall

Coykendall provides a diverse skill set in her attacking position. While she scored a career-high six goals against Stanford on March 26, the senior attacker showcased her elite passing vision last Thursday with four assists against Penn State. 

Scane and Coykendall play off one another, and Thursday’s contest should prove no different for NU. Expect Coykendall to act as the primary facilitator–– but she’ll pounce on any defensive lapse with a quickfire effort.

Defending the Cats’ offense evokes a “pick your poison” mentality, and Rutgers may face the lethal brunt of Coykendall’s creativity and power.

Tale of the Tape: Offensive Production

With the two teams sitting at opposite extremes of the Big Ten standings, the scoring juxtaposition immediately jumps off the page. NU averages a conference highmark of 18.08 goals per game, and Scane, graduate student attacker Hailey Rhatigan, Coykendall and freshman midfielder Madison Taylor each sit inside the Big Ten’s top 10 scorers in goals per game. 

Meanwhile, the Scarlet Knights struggle to sharpen their shooting sticks, recording a conference-low 94 goals in 10 outings. While Rutgers midfielder Cassidy Spilis and attacker Marin Hartshorn have registered impressive individual campaigns — tallying 27 goals and 36 points respectively — the rest of the team’s offensive production lags severely behind the veteran duo. 

The Bottom Line:

The Scarlet Knights cannot compete if the contest turns into a shootout, and the Cats’ significant attacking firepower breeds barrages on opposing nets. Thursday’s contest should not be a matter of whether NU will win — but rather a measure of how wide the margin will extend. 

Coach Kelly Amonte Hiller’s electric ensemble of Scane, Coykendall, Rhatigan and Taylor will handle business on the offensive end, leaving sophomore defender Samantha White and junior midfielder Kendall Halpern to command defensive operations.

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Twitter: @jakeepste1n

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