Lacrosse: Scane headlines prolific Northwestern offensive effort in NCAA semifinal victory over Denver


Daily file photo by Seeger Gray

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

Charlotte Varnes, Senior Staffer

CARY, N.C. — Entering Friday, no team had put up double-digit goals against Denver all season. No opponent had managed to defeat their heralded zone defense, either.

Leave it to graduate student attacker Izzy Scane to unwind the Pioneers (22-1, 6-0 Big East). Facing the country’s No. 1 defense in Denver, the 2023 Tewaaraton Finalist did it all. Scane played dialed-in, aggressive defense in transition and nailed goals from seemingly impossible angles. Goal by goal, Scane and the Wildcats (20-1, 6-0 Big Ten) dismantled the Pioneers’ vaunted defense en route to a 15-7 victory in Friday’s NCAA semifinal in Cary, North Carolina.

The Cats’ attack was the first to dominate the Pioneers this season, tallying double-digit goals and evading Denver’s dynamic defense. Powered by Scane’s six goals, NU is headed to its first NCAA Final since 2012.

Before Friday’s matchup, the Cats tried to pay little attention to all of the talk about Denver, Scane said, focusing on themselves instead. It paid off on the field, she said.

“Our offense did a great job of moving the ball and creating opportunities for each other, and just focusing on our offense not as much as their defense,” Scane said.

However, NU initially struggled on attack and on the draw circle. Denver thrived in creating chaos early on, confusing the Cats’ defense and scoring multiple, close-up goals. NU’s struggles extended to its attack as well, as the Cats played frazzled and threw passes away. By the end of the first quarter, the Cats trailed 4-2 and had tallied just two draws to the Pioneers’ five.

The Cats dialed in during the second quarter. Sophomore midfielder Samantha Smith, who had been taken off the draw, returned to the circle and excelled at beating out Denver.

Fueled by more victories on the circle, NU’s attack began firing on all cylinders. A series of four straight goals in the second quarter, including a Scane-caused turnover that became an electric fast break goal from freshman attacker Madison Taylor, shifted the momentum. At halftime, the Cats held a 6-4 lead — their largest of the game at that point.

“It took us a second to punch back,” Scane said. “We tried to take our time on offense, focus on ourselves and thankfully it started in the back of the cage. Then things started rolling.”

NU’s defense was similarly dynamic from the second quarter onward. The Cats tallied three caused turnovers in the second frame, and graduate student goalkeeper Molly Laliberty began to find her footing after conceding four first quarter goals.

Coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said the Denver attack initially “stressed” the Cats. Then, NU began to capitalize on opportunities, win ground balls and play “really clean, defensive lacrosse,” she said.

Laliberty said the NU defense works hard to “stick together” in tough moments, and her unit trusted it would eventually control the game.

“We started off a bit slow, and that’s okay,” Laliberty said. “We made some adjustments. No game is going to be perfect, but I’m really proud of the defense and everybody on the field for adjusting to what was thrown at us and coming out strong after those first four goals.”

The second half turned into an offensive clinic for NU. Graduate student attacker Hailey Rhatigan got in on the fun, at one point narrowly beating the shot clock to rip a goal past Denver’s defenders. Later on, she worked her way past almost all of the Pioneers’ zone to score. Rhatigan’s efforts proved key for the Cats and she ended the game with four goals.

Taking advantage of a frazzled, frustrated Denver defense, NU continued to dominate in the fourth quarter. After senior attacker Erin Coykendall pushed the lead to 10 goals with just over five minutes left to play, Amonte Hiller pulled her offensive starters. Shortly after, she also pulled Laliberty, sending in freshman goalkeeper Francesa Argentieri. Throughout the final frame, a vibrant, excited sea of purple and lavender in the stands roared in approval.

Heading to her first title game since 2012, Amonte Hiller said she’s “really, really grateful.” Her team is trying to “savor every moment” this weekend, she added.

Friday’s match was also a revenge game of sorts for Scane, who watched her team give up an eight-goal lead in the 2022 NCAA Semifinal as she sat on the sidelines with an ACL injury. Since then, Scane said she has focused on enjoying every moment — including those at this weekend’s Final Four.

“We got an extra week with our best friends, and just to be on the field has been phenomenal,” Scane said. “This year, I’ve been having the most fun I’ve had in my life.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @charvarnes11

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