Lacrosse: What to Watch For: No. 1 Northwestern readies for the NCAA Tournament


Daily file photo by Joanne Haner

Graduate attacker Izzy Scane. The Michigan native ranks second in the country in goals scored.

Charlotte Varnes, Senior Staffer

Riding high on a 17-game winning streak, No. 1 Northwestern looks poised to make another splash in the postseason beginning this weekend.

The Wildcats (17-1, 6-0 Big Ten) return to the NCAA Tournament for the 19th straight season under coach Kelly Amonte Hiller. As the No. 1 seed, NU has a first-round bye and will not take the field until Sunday. Central Michigan and Michigan will face off in the opening round in Evanston on Friday, and the Cats will face the winner of that matchup.

“We’re really excited,” Amonte Hiller said. “It’s a huge advantage to not have to travel, so I’m really glad we can host the two Midwest teams coming in.”

NU has earned a number of conference and national accolades in the lead-up to the postseason.

The Cats claimed the Big Ten regular season championship and the tournament crown, with graduate attacker Izzy Scane being named MVP of the Big Ten Tournament. Eight NU players were named USA Lacrosse Magazine All-Americans on Tuesday, as Scane leads the way with a first-team nod. Scane and senior attacker Erin Coykendall were also named finalists for the Tewaaraton Award, an award given annually to the top player in college lacrosse.

Sunday will mark the beginning of what could be a deep postseason run for a talented Cats team. Here are a few things to keep an eye on when NU takes the field.

1. Depth on both defense and the attack

The Cats have plenty of star power on both ends of the field, which Amonte Hiller views as one of their biggest strengths.

“You can’t stop one or two people, whether on the offensive or defensive end,” Amonte Hiller said. “We just have a lot of depth — even coming off our bench, we have a lot of people that can play.”

NU’s attack ranks first in the country in scoring offense with an average of 17.56 goals per game. Scane, who is second in the country in goals scored this year, leads the NU offense with 81 goals and has chipped in 27 assists. Coykendall has been exciting to watch as well, who is dynamic from behind the goal and an expert shooter from the eight-meter. She, graduate attacker Hailey Rhatigan and freshman attacker Madison Taylor each scored 45 or more goals this year. They’ll all be crucial to the Cats’ postseason push.

The defense, led by graduate goalkeeper Molly Laliberty, has been key to limiting potent offenses like Boston College and Stony Brook. The Cats rank 18th nationally in scoring defense as they allow an average of 9.44 goals each game. Laliberty, supported by veteran defenders like sophomore Samantha White and junior Kendall Halpern, will be key to keeping NU’s run hopes alive.

2. Strategy on the draw

The Cats have been known to be a powerhouse on the draw circle. However, when NU and Michigan faced off in the Big Ten Tournament, the purple-and-white initially struggled to find their footing on the draw. Against Maryland on Saturday, the Cats lost the draw battle 14 to 13.

NU’s success there could make or break their overall tournament hopes. Winning the draw is crucial to securing the ball and firing up the offense, which the Cats have largely succeeded at this season. NU ranks eighth nationally in draw controls per game.

For Amonte Hiller, the draw is all about being patient and making adjustments. She said many “ebbs and flows” happen with the draw, but the Cats believe in themselves no matter the situation.

3. Home field advantage

As one of the NCAA Tournament’s top eight seeds, NU earned hosting rights right out the gate. Amonte Hiller called it a “huge advantage” to avoid having to travel and deal with logistics.

The Cats are one of the strongest home teams in the country, riding a 30-game win streak on their home turf. Many of the games this season have been jam-packed or sellouts, featuring large crowds of NU students and young, excited local lacrosse players alike. A lively home crowd on Sunday certainly wouldn’t hurt the Cats’ chances to move on to the quarterfinals next week.

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Twitter: @charvarnes11

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