Rapid Recap: No. 1 Northwestern 15, No. 5 Denver 7


Daily file photo by Seeger Gray.

Sophomore midfielder Emerson Bohlig looks upfield. Bohlig’s speed in the midfield helped the Cats clinch a victory over Denver on Friday.

Jake Epstein, Assistant Sports Editor

CARY, NC — From the moment the 2023 campaign kicked off just over 100 days ago, every team dreamed of reaching the big stage — the NCAA Tournament semifinal. Perennial powers pittered out, new stars shined and formerly silenced sensations soared back into the spotlight as if they’d never left.

Although No. 1 Northwestern and No. 5 Denver took vastly different routes to this point, both teams fended off a fiery set of challengers to reach Friday’s Final Four fight. After climbing to the No. 1 scoring offense and No. 1 scoring defense in the country, the only objective presented was survival into Championship Sunday.

Fueled by a complete team performance, the Wildcats (20-1, 6-0 Big Ten) clinched their first title shot since 2012, pummeling the Pioneers (22-1, 6-0 Big East) 15-7.

Right off the bat, both teams attempted to assert quick control of the contest.

Sophomore defender Samantha White collected the opening draw, but Denver goalkeeper Emelia Bohi slammed the door shut on NU’s primary possession, picking off an errant pass and jumpstarting a Pioneer transition.

Denver attacker Sloane Kipp buried the first shot of the day, but graduate student attacker Izzy Scane sounded the horn with an answering tally less than two minutes later, knotting the game at 1-1 with 10:59 to play in the first frame.

While both teams traded goals on the game’s next two possessions, Pioneer attacker Kayla DeRose and midfielder Ellie Curry drove Denver to a 4-2 advantage after 10 minutes of action. As the Pioneer zone manufactured a makeshift mile high mountain, Denver carried its two-goal lead into the second period.

After 17 scoreless minutes, the Cats’ captured lightning in a bottle midway through the second quarter. First, Scane scampered inside for her second score of the day, then graduate student attacker Hailey Rhatigan ripped a rising rifle beyond Bohi’s reach to even the score at 4-4.

Despite a media timeout, NU maintained its momentum, as senior attacker Erin Coykendall fed a wide-open crasher in freshman attacker Madison Taylor, who beat Bohi to help the Cats barrel in front. With Rhatigan sinking an unassisted shot to cap a 4-0 NU run, the Cats carried a 6-4 edge into halftime.

The Pioneers landed the third quarter’s first punch, as Denver defender Trinity McPherson turned on the burners to evade the NU ride. She then fired a pinpoint pass to DeRose, who split the deficit in half.

But after White scooped a ground ball deep in the defensive zone, Rhatigan extended the margin to 7-5, consequently spiking her stick against the surface. Four minutes later, Scane completed her hat trick on a free-position goal, giving the Cats a three-goal lead with just over five minutes to play in the third period.

Later in the period, following a foul called on Bohi from close range, Taylor stepped up to the eight-meter facing an empty net and bounced in a conversion. With the clock ticking into the final minute of the quarter, Scane and Rhatigan added a pair of scores to stretch NU’s lead to 11-5.

Scane picked up a yellow card in the beginning of the fourth quarter, but she notched her fifth goal of the day upon her return to solidify a seven goal margin. Four minutes later, she struck again, pounding the field as she punched a proverbial ticket to the championship.

After sophomore midfielder Samantha Smith and Coykendall piled on two more scores, the Cats activated the running clock with 5:11 to play, and coach Kelly Amonte Hiller rotated her lineup as the team cruised to its most vital win yet.

Here are three takeaways from NU’s Final Four victory over Denver.


1. Denver’s draw dominance defines much of the opening period

While the Cats managed to tally the contest’s first draw control, they’d win just the same number for the next 15 minutes.

Possession is king, especially against the Pioneers’ tenacious defense.

Coach Kelly Amonte Hiller rotated sophomore midfielder Serafina DeMunno into the circle, as she’s done in previous contests, but the move didn’t light a spark. Denver midfielder Abby Jenkins and her circle compatriots pulled in five draws — compared to NU’s lone pair.

The draw differential, coupled with a cohesive defensive unit, propelled the Pioneers into a 4-2 upper-hand after one quarter.

2. The Cats’ attacking arsenal answered the call with a vengeance

For all the plaudits Scane rightfully receives, the depth of NU’s attack proved a recipe for sure-fire success throughout the season.

But with the offense sputtering amid a 17-minute scoring drought, concerns arose about whether the Denver zone zapped the Cats’ energy.

Nearing the midway point of the second quarter and facing a two-goal deficit, Scane punctured the first hole in the Pioneers’ defense, turning a slim angle into gold.

Just 46 seconds later, Rhatigan equalized from the eight meter, granting the Cats a blank slate.

With Coykendall quarterbacking the offense, Taylor buried a go-ahead-goal, and then Rhatigan rattled home another goal, completing a 4-0 second quarter run.

The Lake Show needed anything to turn the tide of a rough opening period. Its attacking weapons presented a monsoon — and didn’t relent after the break, tallying the first double-digit display Denver conceded all season.

3. NU’s defense puts on another clinic

While the Pioneers poured in four first-quarter goals, the Cats’ defense turned the pressure up several notches in the ensuing 15 minutes, blanking their opponent in a second-quarter shutout.

With White, junior defender Kendall Halpern, graduate student defender Allie Berkery and the rest of the unit raising their level of play as the game progressed, Denver’s attack could seldom find a sliver of space.

Although the Pioneers possessed a prime opportunity to regroup during the intermission, graduate student goalkeeper Molly Laliberty and company retained their groove, allowing just one third quarter score.

NU’s defense held Denver off the board for the first 12 minutes of the fourth quarter, closing any window of a Pioneer comeback.

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Twitter: @jakeepste1n

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