Lacrosse: No. 2 Northwestern overwhelms No. 12 Maryland in 13-6 victory, clinches outright Big Ten regular-season crown


Photo courtesy of Griffin Quinn/Northwestern Athletics

The Big Ten regular-season champions bask in the glory of their win. The Cats won all six conference games this season, culminating in a 13-6 victory against Maryland on Saturday.

Jake Epstein, Assistant Sports Editor

After more than two months of action, No. 2 Northwestern’s regular season all came down to a Saturday night sellout on Lake Michigan.

NU reached the mountaintop on multiple occasions this season — defeating then-No. 3 Boston College, then-No. 4 Stony Brook and then-No. 1 North Carolina in dominant home displays inside Ryan Fieldhouse. But a final matchup stood in the way of an outright Big Ten regular-season championship, the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament and a spot atop the national polls. 

As coach Kelly Amonte Hiller’s team braced for its last battle prior to postseason play, No. 12 Maryland marched into Martin Stadium, eyeing an upset victory to catapult itself to the top seed in the Big Ten Tournament and punch its ticket to the conference semifinal. 

“We knew it was going to be a fight,” senior attacker Erin Coykendall said. “Being the second ranked team in the country, no matter who comes in here, they’re going to give us a fight. That’s what we wanted.”

Under the cover of darkness, the Wildcats (15-1, 6-0 Big Ten) snatched victory from the Terrapins (12-5, 4-2 Big Ten), thanks to a second-half attacking brigade matched with an unnavigable defensive blockade.

Freshman midfielder Madison Taylor handled the opening draw, and graduate student attacker Izzy Scane scampered in front of the net before putting NU in front just 31 seconds into the game. Less than three minutes later, Taylor received a pinpoint pass from graduate student attacker Hailey Rhatigan and doubled the Cats’ advantage to 2-0.

After Coykendall completed the 3-0 NU run, Maryland attacker Libby May and midfielder Shaylan Ahearn corralled consecutive conversions, bringing it back to a one-score game. But 2:28 later, graduate student midfielder Elle Hansen drew a free position shot with 0.7 seconds left in the period and beat the buzzer from the eight-meter to settle a 4-2 lead for the Cats.

Ahearn grabbed her second goal of the night less than a minute into the second frame, and Terrapin attacker Chrissy Thomas tied the contest at four apiece on her team’s ensuing possession. When Maryland threatened to take its first lead of the day, graduate student goalkeeper Molly Laliberty made the improbable look routine on a pair of acrobatic saves around the quarter’s midway point. 

As the NU attack struggled to find its shooting form in the second quarter, Laliberty gobbled up a last-second free position attempt, while the Cats’ defense constantly checked and clawed its way to maintain a 4-4 score heading into the break.

“We really were able to step up to the challenge and embrace that hardship,” sophomore defender Samantha White said. “It made us gel together as a defense even more.”

Following nearly 18 scoreless minutes, Taylor fed Hansen for the go-ahead score, handing NU a 5-4 lead with 12:12 remaining in the third period. The first-year phenom then drew a shooting space call and sank the resultant free position tally — her 40th goal of the season.

While Terrapin attacker Eloise Clevenger responded to split the deficit, Taylor punched back on a hat trick goal, emphatically spiking her stick against the turf to emblematize the 7-5 edge.

Just when the Cats needed a spark amid a four-plus minute scoring lull, Rhatigan sprinted past the heart of the Maryland defense and found twine on a low-arcing shot. In the waning moments of the third quarter, she struck again — this time from a free position attempt — to extend NU’s lead to 9-5 with 15 minutes to play.

Coykendall kickstarted the final frame’s proceedings with a goal, but the flow then transitioned to a chippy battle between the restraining lines. With the clock ticking beyond the seven-minute mark, Rhatigan completed her hat trick on an unassisted tally, propelling the Cats to an 11-5 margin.

Rhatigan’s second-half clinic picked up more steam as the contest continued, as she stormed the cage to tally her fourth goal with 3:32 remaining. After Thomas scored the Terrapins’ first goal in more than twenty minutes, Coykendall collected the ball in the game’s closing moments. Yet, rather than kill the clock, the “Spencerport sniper ended the contest with a bang, scoring through pressure to place a final nail in the coffin for a 13-6 conference clinching conquest.

“Anytime you win a title, it’s a really special thing,” Amonte Hiller said. “These girls should be really proud of themselves … I’m proud of the way they came out of the locker room at halftime and stayed together — found the holes (on offense) and stayed together defensively.”

Purple confetti draped the night sky as NU hoisted the Big Ten regular-season championship trophy. The team reveled in the moment not as a means to an end, but as “a good start” with plenty of work left to do, Coykendall said.

The Cats will face the winner of the quarterfinal matchup between No. 14 Penn State and No. 18 Michigan May 4 in Columbus, Ohio — likely entering the game with the No. 1 national ranking.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @jakeepste1n

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