Lacrosse: No. 1 Northwestern defeats Michigan 18-11, heads to Big Ten Tournament championship


Daily file photo by Seeger Gray

Graduate student attacker Izzy Scane stares down the cage. Scane tallied eight points against Michigan on Thursday.

Jake Epstein, Assistant Sports Editor

Nearly two weeks after completing a perfect regular-season conference run, No. 1 Northwestern soared into a Big Ten semifinal showdown Thursday. Coming in with a 15-game win streak, the squad vied for a shot at the conference championship game, playing in the semifinal against spirited underdog No. 16 Michigan. 

“Michigan is a super aggressive, super good team, so we knew it was going to be a fight,” graduate student attacker Izzy Scane said.

In a 18-11 victory, the Wildcats (16-1, 6-0 Big Ten) captured an early lead and never let the Wolverines (11-7, 3-3 Big Ten) conjure up more than a slim chance of a Columbus comeback.

Senior attacker Erin Coykendall broke the deadlock on a free position shot less than three minutes into the first quarter and doubled her scoring tally at the 7:40 mark. Despite a relentless Michigan press on Scane, she dodged her way to a powerful effort on cage, extending NU’s advantage to 3-0 with 5:59 remaining in the frame.

“I’m perfectly fine being the girl that’s getting the assists, but when you can get one in on the back of the cage, it’s always a great feeling,” Scane said. “My first goal was (senior attacker) Dylan Amonte cutting through, so that’s all on her.”

Wolverine attacker Kaley Thompson put her team on the board late in the first quarter, placing a pair of scores behind graduate student goalkeeper Molly Laliberty. However, graduate student attacker Hailey Rhatigan soon matched Thompson’s goal-production, and freshman attacker Madison Taylor also found twine to secure a 6-2 lead for the Cats heading into the second period.

Just over a minute into the second quarter, Scane capitalized off a Rhatigan feed to increase NU’s lead to five. Michigan midfielder Erin Garvey grabbed a response 91 seconds later, but Rhatigan then fired a pinpoint pass to graduate student midfielder Elle Hansen, who buried a point-blank shot with 8:03 left in the half.

“We worked hard over the last week and a half that we had off, where we wanted to really share the ball (and) keep it simple,” coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. “The offense did a tremendous job.”

Less than six minutes before halftime, Coykendall fired a rocket to the top of the cage to complete her hat trick, before answering Wolverine midfielder Julia Schwabe’s bounceback goal with a sidearm snipe to stretch the margin to 10-4. 

Despite Coykendall’s commanding offensive presence, Michigan wouldn’t capitulate. Wolverine attackers Jill Smith and Kaylee Dyer corralled consecutive conversions to settle a 10-6 halftime spread.

After Taylor picked up a yellow card early in the third quarter, Michigan attacker Caroline Davis tallied a player-up score, cutting the Cats’ lead to three. Scane notched a hat trick goal during NU’s ensuing possession, but Jill Smith grabbed another player-advantage score for the Wolverines, bringing the game’s margin back within three.

Right when the Cats needed to raise their level to silence a gritty underdog, the team’s graduate transfers proved their weight in gold. First, Rhatigan sent a sidearm free position shot beyond Michigan goalkeeper Maya Santa-Maria. Then, Laliberty pulled off a diving save to deny what appeared to be a surefire Jill Smith score.

“We build off each other,” Scane said. “The defense started making some really big stops, (especially) Molly.”

With Amonte sinking a low-arcing eight-meter attempt, NU entered the final quarter with a 13-8 lead and a Big Ten Tournament championship game within its sights. 

Jill Smith and Thompson kickstarted the final frame with consecutive goals for the Wolverines, cutting the deficit to 13-10 with 10:45 left to play and shifting momentum toward Michigan coach Hannah Nielsen’s sideline.

Then, sophomore midfielder Samantha Smith  — who tied for a game-high seven draw controls with sophomore defender Samantha White  — signed, sealed and delivered a statement play. The midfielder received a feed from Scane and hurled a howitzer into the back of the net, handing the Cats a four-goal edge.

From there, sophomore midfielder Emerson Bohlig scooped a ground ball and went coast-to-coast before feeding Taylor for an additional score. Taylor, Rhatigan and Scane each added one more to the count for good measure and a last-ditch Jill Smith goal sealed an 18-11 NU victory.

On Saturday, the Cats will face No. 10 Maryland in a rematch of the teams’ regular season finale. The Terrapins (14-5, 4-2 Big Ten) trounced No. 23 Rutgers 15-9 in their semifinal and look to spoil NU’s road to the No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed.

“It’s a great opportunity, and our players worked hard for it,” Amonte Hiller said. “We’re excited to be able to compete for a championship — it’s something we don’t take lightly.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @jakeepste1n

Related Stories:

Lacrosse: What to Watch for: No. 1 Northwestern enters Big Ten Tournament with a target on its back

Lacrosse: The Maryland Magician: Samantha White’s dominant defensive play amplifies standout sophomore campaign

Lacrosse: No. 1 Northwestern leads conference with eight All-Big Ten selections