Lacrosse: No. 1 Northwestern outduels No. 15 Michigan in 8-7 defensive battle, advances to NCAA quarterfinal


Seeger Gray/Daily Senior Staffer

Sophomore defender Samantha White darts upfield in transition. White tallied three ground balls and forced the game-winning turnover against Michigan on Sunday.

Jake Epstein, Assistant Sports Editor

A week after securing the program’s first top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament since 2009, No. 1 Northwestern kicked off its quest for an eighth national title in Martin Stadium on Sunday morning. As the wind whipped onto the cloud-covered lakefront, gutsy underdog No. 15 Michigan stared down the tournament’s favorites in a second-round showdown.

“We’re not scared of them — we’re not intimidated by them,” Michigan coach Hannah Nielsen said. “The girls puffed their chests out and had that confidence today.”

Although the Wolverines (12-8, 3-3 Big Ten) held coach Kelly Amonte Hiller’s team to its lowest scoring output of the season, the Wildcats (18-1, 6-0 Big Ten) conjured up just enough firepower to advance to the quarterfinals in an old-fashioned defensive duel.

It only took senior attacker Erin Coykendall 46 seconds to prance in front of the cage and put NU ahead 1-0, while Michigan attacker Kaley Thompson’s first shot ricocheted off the pipe on the ensuing possession. Four minutes later, though, Thompson capitalized off a player-up scenario to level the score. 

An athlete in a white jersey cradles a lacrosse ball.
Senior attacker Erin Coykendall eyes the cage. (Seeger Gray/Daily Senior Staffer)

Wolverine midfielder Erin Garvey grabbed another goal off a player-advantage to capture a 2-1 Michigan lead just after the eight-minute mark. But, graduate student attacker Hailey Rhatigan slipped beyond her defender and ripped a rocket into the net to turn the tide with 2:44 remaining in the period. 

Then, graduate student attacker Izzy Scane fired a powerful effort beyond Wolverine goalkeeper Maya Santa-Maria to snatch a 3-2 lead for the Cats as the first quarter concluded.

However, after sophomore defender Samantha White picked up the second quarter’s opening draw, Michigan suddenly shot out of a cannon. Michigan midfielder Josie Gooch equalized with 13:12 remaining, and Wolverine attacker Jill Smith tallied the go-ahead goal less than three minutes later.

“They’re coming out fighting — good, we need this for ourselves,” White said postgame. “We need to get knocked down a bit so that we can go into the rest of the tournament with a chip on our shoulders. We’re No. 1, but teams are gunning for us.”

While Coykendall connected with a cutting senior attacker Dylan Amonte atop the crease for a tying score, another NU yellow card gave way to Jill Smith’s second goal of the day.

Despite outshooting the Wolverines 15-9, the Cats jogged into the locker room trailing 5-4 — their first halftime deficit since facing then-No. 3 Boston College on Feb. 19.

Two lacrosse players raise their sticks toward a ball as a referee points in the air.
Sophomore midfielder Samantha Smith looks to win the draw. (Seeger Gray/Daily Senior Staffer)

“The message was that (the) half was over,” Amonte Hiller said. “We had a beautiful opportunity to play two more quarters and look ahead. We didn’t want to look backwards, (instead) we want to feed off each other and control what you can control.”

After the break, graduate student attacker Elle Hansen didn’t take much time to get NU going, finding twine less than three minutes into the third quarter. But after Michigan midfielder Julia Schwabe handed the Wolverines a 6-5 advantage with 10:24 left in the frame, neither side created more than a sniff at a goal. 

With gritty play from both defenses and three more yellow cards issued, Michigan carried its one-goal lead into the fourth quarter.

“Kelly brought us in at the end of the third quarter and (said), ‘You guys can control one thing, and that’s your energy and your effort,’” Coykendall said.

After sophomore midfielder Samantha Smith tallied her game-high fifth draw control, Coykendall responded right on cue, embodying her coach’s words in the final frame’s opening possession.

Just 31 seconds into the most pivotal quarter of the season thus far, Coykendall pump-faked her way beyond her mark before sinking a low-arcing effort past Santa-Maria. As if the game had begun once more, the Cats now had a clean slate in a 6-6 deadlock.

Less than two minutes later, Rhatigan drew a free position attempt in a dangerous locale. Rhatigan — whose yellow and green cards both led to earlier Wolverine scores — more than made up for her prior missteps. She weaved inside, effortlessly flinging a sidearm effort into the top-right corner.

Then, NU’s defense that played beyond itself all day soared to new victory-sealing heights. Senior midfielder Jane Hansen jarred the ball loose in the Cats’ side of the field, eventually finding its way to Scane’s stick. The Tewaaraton finalist found junior defender Carleigh Mahoney, who slotted home her first goal of the season to extend NU’s advantage to 8-6.

A group of lacrosse players in white jerseys jump and cheer.
Northwestern celebrates junior defender Carleigh Mahoney’s first goal of the season. (Seeger Gray/Daily Senior Staffer)

“We talk about having each other’s backs, and Carleigh Mahoney comes (and) scores a huge goal for us,” Coykendall said. “That sparked our energy and we were like, ‘We got this.’”

While Jill Smith hit Schwabe to cut the deficit to one with 4:36 remaining, the Cats killed the clock down to its waning seconds, leaving Michigan with a last-ditch opportunity.

On the Hail Mary-like play, the ball fell innocently into White’s stick — placing a muffler on any semblance of an upset alert in an 8-7 NU victory.

The Cats will face No. 8 Loyola Maryland on Thursday, where they’ll look to punch their ticket to a fourth consecutive Final Four in Cary, North Carolina.

“This game is an incredible learning experience,” Amonte Hiller said. “The one thing we do (especially) well at Northwestern lacrosse — we evaluate and learn (to just) go forward with incredible fearlessness.”

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Twitter: @jakeepste1n

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