Lacrosse: Varnes: With NCAA Final victory, Northwestern lacrosse shows dreams really do come true


Photo courtesy of Northwestern Athletics

Northwestern celebrates its victory in Sunday’s NCAA Final.

Charlotte Varnes, Senior Staffer

Graduate student attacker Izzy Scane knew she wanted to attend Northwestern from the day she picked up a stick.

It was Northwestern when she first started playing lacrosse, inspired by the decade of sheer dominance among Wildcat programs. It was Northwestern even when coach Kelly Amonte Hiller cut Scane from her U.S. U-19 squad prior to her freshman year. It was Northwestern after three straight losses in the NCAA Semifinal from 2019-22 and a devastating ACL injury that kept her out for the entire 2022 season.

After years of ups and downs, Scane’s faith in the purple and white prevailed. In the end, Scane’s four goals led the way to the Wildcats’ (21-1, 6-0 Big Ten) first NCAA Championship since 2012 – around the time she began following NU lacrosse.

“It was like those kid dreams that you don’t expect to come true, but you’ve set your goals high and hope you come somewhere close,” Scane said. “For this to be happening, it’s one of the most insane experiences of my life.”

Scane is one among several players whose wildest hopes were realized as the Cats defeated No. 3 Boston College 18-6 in Sunday’s national championship. Scane, her teammates and Amonte Hiller are proof that dreaming big isn’t improbable, but instead, invaluable.

Amonte Hiller has long thought outside of the box. When she first arrived in Evanston in 2001, she recruited a pair of students she saw running. Those players, twin sisters Ashley and Courtney Koester, eventually became national champions and All-Americans. Amonte Hiller’s tactics have paid off, powering the Cats to seven national championships in eight years.

It was “challenging” when the titles stopped coming after 2012, Amonte Hiller said. Eventually, she decided to embrace the same strategies she did when she built the program in 2005. Among the changes was re-hiring assistant coach Alexis Venechanos, who originally worked at NU from 2004-2006.

Just like she did 20 years ago, Amonte Hiller dreamed big. And look what it got her: an eighth national championship.

She also embraced recruiting from geographic regions not known for lacrosse, like the South and Midwest. Some of the program’s brightest stars, like Scane and Taylor Thornton (Communication ’13, Medill M.S. ’14), emerged from these efforts.

Scane, a Michigan native, said she frequently hears young players in her home state tell her she inspires them to do “big things” in the lacrosse world. The state isn’t well known for its lacrosse, but Scane has proven to fellow players from Michigan that their wildest hopes –– whether it’s leading the NCAA in scoring or winning a national championship –– are possible.

“To be someone from an area like that, to draw attention to kids coming out of there, for them to know they can do anything that kids coming out of the East Coast can…it’s been awesome,” Scane said. “It’s an honor to be in that position.”

Thornton also came from an area where the game of lacrosse was just developing: Dallas, Texas. One of the most decorated college players of all time, Thornton was a national champion for the Cats and a four-time All-American.

Lacrosse was a predominantly white sport when Thornton played, and it remains so today. But Thornton’s achievements as a Black woman playing for NU inspired some women of color who play the sport today, including sophomore defender Samantha White.

White first watched lacrosse at the 2010 NCAA Semifinal, which Thornton played. Seeing Thornton compete for NU sparked White’s love for the Cats. Now, like Thornton, White has won a national championship at NU. Thornton’s achievements showed White and other players what was possible in the college game.

After two decades of coaching, Amonte Hiller’s recruitment and creativity have left an incalculable impact on the sport. She coached the first team outside the Eastern time zone to a national championship in 2005. Since then, several new programs have popped up west of the Mississippi — some of which are coached by Amonte Hiller’s former players.

Last week, Amonte Hiller said she’s always reinventing herself. That may be true, but her devotion to strategizing and dreaming big remain the same. It’s a belief that trickles down through the entire sport of college lacrosse, and to her players, too.

Take Hailey Rhatigan, a graduate student attacker who transferred from Mercer. While the Bears were a conference powerhouse, Rhatigan said she never thought she would win a national championship. But she’s dreamed of playing on the national stage since she was five years old, and this weekend, she achieved it.

For Rhatigan and her teammates, Sunday represented the peak of a long journey through the highs and lows of college lacrosse.

“When I committed here, all I thought about was winning a national championship,” freshman attacker Madison Taylor said. “That’s all I ever wanted. My dreams came true.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @charvarnes11

Related Stories:
Lacrosse: No. 1 Northwestern saves best for last, cruises to eighth national title
Rapid Recap: Northwestern 18, Boston College 6
Lacrosse: Erin Coykendall reaches new heights on attack ahead of NCAA Final