Lacrosse: ‘It means everything’: Hailey Rhatigan eyes storybook sendoff


Daily file photo by Seeger Gray

Graduate student attacker Hailey Rhatigan darts downfield against Michigan. Rhatigan scored four goals against Denver in Friday’s Final Four.

Jake Epstein, Assistant Sports Editor

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — On the eve of the final game of her storied collegiate career, graduate student attacker Hailey Rhatigan practiced with her typical fusion of fire and finesse in North Carolina’s Bill Koman Practice Complex.

In less than 24 hours, Rhatigan would play in the biggest game of her life thus far: the NCAA Tournament championship game against No. 3 Boston College. But, the attacker said she wasn’t nervous. Instead, she’s excited to take the field for No. 1 Northwestern one last time.

“It means everything,” Rhatigan said. “I’ve been wanting to be on this big of a stage and win a national championship ever since I was five years old.”

While Rhatigan’s brother Kyle played in three national championships at Division II Limestone, she felt she’d have to put her title dreams aside at Mercer, where she set scoreboards ablaze but couldn’t get past top teams come NCAA Tournament time. However, this all shifted when she entered her name in the transfer portal last year, drawing interest from perennial powerhouses like NU.

After deciding to link up with graduate student attacker Izzy Scane and company, Rhatigan missed the season’s first four games due to injury. Her long-awaited debut came against Vanderbilt in March, and the attacker more than made up for lost time.

Rhatigan scored a hat trick against the Commodores, displaying a lethal combination of speed and scoring savvy that struck fear in the hearts of NU’s rivals. That game made clear: The Cats now carried another lethal left-handed weapon in their loaded attacking arsenal. 

Her swift sidearm shots and game-altering motor quickly put the nation on notice. Now, teams hoping to beat NU can’t just face guard Scane or attempt to neutralize senior attacker Erin Coykendall’s distribution from the X. 

“She’s a dog — she gets to the cage like no one you’ve ever seen before,” Coykendall said. “Having that over on the left side opens up the right side for us, too, and it just makes us really hard to play against because you have a big dodger on either side of the field.”

Regardless of whether she rumbled inside — carving through the heart of opposing defenses — or unleashed her signature low-to-high laser from the eight-meter, Rhatigan seemed to score at will.

The NCAA’s active leader in career goals has added 59 goals and 11 assists in 17 starts this season, compiling the 10th most goals in collegiate history with 286 scores.

But, perhaps Rhatigan’s most pivotal performance came when her team needed it most. 

With NU trailing No. 5 Denver 4-2 after one quarter in Friday’s Final Four, the Pioneers’ zone defense looked to throw the attacker off her game by any means necessary. The Cats’ offense had stalled for almost 17 minutes, and coach Kelly Amonte Hiller needed a spark to jumpstart a turnaround.

And in that moment, Rhatigan rose to meet the magnitude of the matchup, scoring four goals and adding an emphatic stick spike for good measure. Her ferocity helped fuel a dominant 15-7 victory, punching a ticket to Championship Sunday.

“Hailey always seems to thrive in those tough moments, and she’s done that for us all season,” Amonte Hiller said. “(She) plays with a chip on her shoulder.”

Although Rhatigan’s one-season stint on the Lake Show earned her a bevy of individual plaudits, including a Tewaaraton Award nomination as one of the nation’s top 25 players and a spot on several All-American lists, the attacker said she leaves everything out on the field for her teammates.

She said the team chemistry is something she’s never experienced before, helping NU continue to build on its success as the season runs on.

“You just kind of take a step back and realize it’s so much bigger than playing for yourself,” Rhatigan said. “You’re playing for yourself — you’re playing for all your teammates, your family, your fans and the next generation of lacrosse. It’s something that’s really special.”

Though Sunday will be her last game with NU, Rhatigan’s lacrosse career is far from over. The attacker was selected fifth overall in the Athletes Unlimited 2023 Lacrosse Draft. 

But before the attacker makes her professional debut this July at the USA Lacrosse Headquarters in Sparks, Maryland, Rhatigan hopes to achieve her lifelong dream of a national title — without taking any moment for granted.

“When we work with cohesion together, it’s magical,” Rhatigan said. 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @jakeepste1n

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