Lacrosse: No. 1 Northwestern blows past No. 10 Maryland, captures Big Ten Tournament championship


Photo courtesy of Northwestern Athletics

No. 1 Northwestern celebrates its third Big Ten Tournament championship win Saturday after beating No. 10 Maryland 14-9. The Cats won their third conference tournament title against the Terrapins.

Jake Epstein, Assistant Sports Editor

No. 1 Northwestern charged into Ohio State Lacrosse Stadium to face a familiar and formidable foe in a high-stakes championship clash on Saturday. As coach Kelly Amonte Hiller’s team vied for its third Big Ten Tournament title, No. 10 Maryland looked to avenge its regular season finale loss to the Wildcats and spoil its archrival’s march into mid May. 

The two squads had faced each other in four prior conference championships, each going 2-2. But tonight’s battle loomed large — the Lake Show possessed prime position to claim the NCAA Tournament’s top seed for the first time since 2009.

“Maryland’s an amazing team, and we knew we had to come out and play strong as a full group,” graduate student attacker Izzy Scane said. “Their defense was going to be high pressure, sending early doubles. Everyone had to play unselfishly.” 

While the Terrapins (14-6, 4-2 Big Ten) answered each of the first half’s questions on countering their highflying opponent, the Cats (17-1, 6-0 Big Ten) forced their opponents back into their shell during the second half. In a 14-9 championship clincher, NU’s A1 attacking arsenal and lockdown defense were on full display.

Just 55 seconds into the first frame, graduate student attacker Elle Hansen bounced the game’s opening tally beyond Maryland goalkeeper Emily Sterling.

“(Hansen) scored a huge goal for us in the beginning of the game, and that really sparked us,” senior attacker Erin Coykendall said. “Plays like that, where people come up and make a big play right off the bat (are) huge for us as a group.”

Less than three minutes later, Coykendall evaded a Terrapin troop and fed Scane. The Tewaaraton frontrunner stepped into a net-piercing effort, doubling NU’s advantage to 2-0.

But Maryland attackers Chrissy Thomas and Libby May packed a powerful counterpunch, as Thomas grabbed the Terrapin’s first goal and found May for the leveler with 2:51 left in the quarter. The teams ventured into the second quarter tied at two.

One minute into the ensuing frame, Maryland attacker Hannah Leubeckeer spun into a side armed snipe to capture the Terrapins’ first lead of the night — the Cats’ first second quarter deficit since facing then-No. 3 Boston College on Feb. 19.  

As NU stared down a similar dilemma as in its February fight, a common combatant corrected the Cats’ course: senior attacker Dylan Amonte.

She first drew a yellow card on May, before tallying a game-tying goal off Scane’s feed. After May buried a bottom-left shot to give Maryland a 4-3 lead, Amonte stepped up to the eight-meter and equalized once more.

“I call Dylan a gamer because every time you need a big moment, (or) a big play, she steps up and is lights out every single time we needed to come up big,” Scane said. “She’s one of my favorite players in the world because she does all the little things that create for everyone else.”

Meanwhile, Amonte Hiller moved sophomore midfielder Serafina Demunno onto the draw team. This move — coupled with Terrapin midfielder Shaylan Ahearn’s ankle injury  — rectified a lopsided Maryland margin in the circle. Both teams traded the next four goals, knotting the matchup at six-apiece heading into the half’s closing seconds. 

With the clock ticking below the 30-second mark, Coykendall and Scane conjured a moment of magic. The Spencerport Sniper evaded a quadruple team and fed a wide-open Scane, who buried her 80th goal of the campaign. The Cats carried momentum into the locker room, heading into halftime leading 7-6.

“All the credit goes to my teammates for creating that opportunity for me, and I’m really proud of the way our offense worked together to come up with that going into the second half,” Scane said.

From there, the team never relinquished its advantage. 

Coykendall fired two free-position flames past Sterling, while freshman attacker Madison Taylor responded to Terrapin midfielder Kori Edmondson’s player-up goal with a bounce shot to increase NU’s lead to 10-7 –– with 4:36 remaining in the third quarter. 

While Thomas cut the deficit to two, graduate student attacker Hailey Rhatigan rumbled and stumbled inside to give the Cats an 11-8 lead entering the final frame.

Following a crucial save from graduate student goalkeeper Molly Laliberty on the fourth quarter’s opening possession, sophomore midfielder Samantha Smith blazed beyond her Maryland marks on a clear. She left no doubt on her signature sidearm shot, extending NU’s edge to 12-8 with 13:36 before the championship crowning.

After Rhatigan ripped a rifle to the top right corner to stretch the lead to five, Laliberty closed any window of a Terrapin comeback. The reigning Division III Goalie of the Year notched 11 saves on the night.

“To win two conference championships (at Tufts) was so special, and to get to do that on an even bigger stage is such a gift,” Laliberty said. “It’s been a really amazing journey so far, and we have a lot more to accomplish.”

Leubecker grabbed a goal for Maryland at the eight minute mark, but Scane —  the Tournament MVP — sealed the 14-9 victory on an empty net, capturing the program’s first Big Ten Tournament championship since 2021.

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