Lacrosse: By the numbers: No. 1 Northwestern takes on No. 5 Denver in Final Four


Daily file photo by Seeger Gray

Graduate student attacker Izzy Scane runs down the field. Scane led the Wildcats on Friday with six goals.

Jake Epstein, Assistant Sports Editor

After trouncing No. 8 Loyola Maryland 16-6 on May 18, No. 1 Northwestern will collide with No. 5 Denver in a Final Four clash in North Carolina this Friday. 

The Wildcats (19-1, 6-0 Big Ten) are riding a 19-game winning streak as they enter their fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament championship weekend in Cary. While No. 15 Michigan took NU down to the wire in a second round showdown on May 14, graduate student attacker Izzy Scane and the Cats cruised through their quarterfinal game four days later.

However, coach Kelly Amonte Hiller’s team will face one of its toughest tests of the season on Friday.

The Pioneers (22-0, 6-0 Big East) carry an unblemished resume into their first Final Four trip in program history. Denver dispatched its first round foe in No. 18 Southern California 10-7 on May 12, silenced second round underdog Albany 8-6 just two days later and stymied No. 4 North Carolina 5-4 on May 18 in its crash course to Cary.

With the Cats’ first national title game since 2012 on the line, here is a breakdown of the numbers heading into their Final Four fight.


The Cats boast the nation’s top scoring offense, averaging 17 goals per game. NU’s attack consistently spreads the wealth, as six players have eclipsed the 30-point mark this season. But, the team’s two Tewaaraton finalists, Scane and senior attacker Erin Coykendall, jump off the page — forming the most potent scoring duo in collegiate lacrosse. 

Scane leads the NCAA in both goals and points per game, and Coykendall holds the eighth highest points per game average, tallying 4.9 points per contest. The pair represent the only two teammates ranking in the top 10 for points per game, fueling the Cats’ elite attack.

Meanwhile, Denver sits 55th in the NCAA for goals per game, averaging 12.14 each contest. Pioneer coach Liza Kelly’s team doesn’t engage in high-scoring shootouts, instead opting to keep opponents off the scoreboard.

Still, six Denver players have tallied 30-plus points this season, headlined by attacker Julia Gilbert’s 66 points in 22 games.


While NU put 16 goals past Loyola Maryland’s second-ranked scoring defense, the team may meet its match in the Pioneer’s No. 1 defense. Denver concedes on average just 5.82 goals per game. 

Kelly’s squad hasn’t surrendered double digit goals all season — the team hasn’t since last year’s NCAA Tournament at Boston College on May 15, 2022.

The Pioneers’ relentless pressure and aggressive slides force a flurry of opposing mistakes, and Denver’s zone causes 12.73 turnovers per game. All-American Pioneer defender Sam Thacker anchors the stout defensive unit, recording 53 caused turnovers in 22 games. Defenders Bryn McCaughey and Trinity McPherson thrive in passing lanes and in close corridors and caused 38 and 37 turnovers, respectively.

But, the Cats’ defense has displayed consistent improvement throughout the campaign. Amonte Hiller said her 12th ranked scoring defense is “very coachable.” Through two NCAA tournament contests so far, the unit has surrendered just 13 goals.

Sophomore defender Samantha White leads NU with 27 caused turnovers and provides versatility on almost every inch of the field. Alongside the first-team All-Big Ten star, junior defender Kendall Halpern sits second on the team with 25 caused turnovers. Senior midfielder Jane Hansen has thrived in her plug and play role off the bench, registering 21 caused turnovers.

The Draw

The Cats’ draw team — spearheaded by sophomore midfielder Samantha Smith’s 108 draw controls — collects an average of 16.5 draw controls per game, winning 57% of all draws. These figures rank 10th and 13th, respectively, in the country.

However, the draw poses potential problems for NU, especially at the beginning of the Cats’ game against Loyola Maryland. The team went down 5-1 in the draw category, and Amonte Hiller needed to shift sophomore midfielder Serafina DeMunno and senior defender Johanna Kingsfield into the circle.

Since Denver doesn’t convert at warp speed, nor surrender scores in bunches, the Pioneers pull in a 67th national ranking of 13.45 draw controls per game. Pioneer draw specialist Abby Jenkins has proven her prowess as the Big East’s premier draw taker, tallying a team-high 129 draw controls.

The Pioneers’ draw control percentage proves far more telling.

With a third ranked 62.2% draw control percentage, Denver poses a considerable circle challenge. Although North Carolina won 8-of-13 draws against the Pioneers in the quarterfinal, the Cats’ draw unit must do its homework prior to Friday. 

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Twitter: @jakeepste1n

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