Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Lacrosse: Northwestern’s Izzy Scane wins 2024 Honda Sport Award
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Pro-Palestinian graduates walk out of 2024 Commencement Ceremony in solidarity with Gaza
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June 4, 2024

Haner: A love letter to the multimedia room

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Lacrosse: Northwestern’s Izzy Scane wins 2024 Honda Sport Award

Lacrosse: Northwestern’s Izzy Scane wins 2024 Tewaaraton Award

May 30, 2024

Lacrosse: No. 1 Northwestern falls 14-13 to No. 2 Boston College in national championship battle

May 26, 2024

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Lacrosse: No. 1 Northwestern prepares for Florida Final Four fight

Daily file photo by Henry Frieman
In a battle of former ALC rivals, No. 1 Northwestern and Florida will meet for the first time since 2014 Friday.

Through two NCAA Tournament games, No. 1 Northwestern has appeared infallible, scoring 37 goals and conceding just 11 in running-clock blowouts of Denver and No. 8 Penn.

While coach Kelly Amonte Hiller’s potent powerhouse program passed its primary postseason tests, unseeded Florida awaits the defending national champions in a Friday Final Four fight where the winner will punch its ticket to Championship Sunday.

The Wildcats (17-2, 5-1 Big Ten) enter the game on a nine-game winning streak, and their attacking and defensive units have elevated their play at the most ideal juncture. However, the Gators (20-2, 6-0 AAC) boast 20 consecutive victories and the nation’s most lethal scoring offense.

Florida coach Amanda O’Leary was an assistant coach at Maryland when Amonte Hiller was a freshman on the team. Much like Amonte Hiller in 2023, O’Leary has spearheaded a program resurgence this season, propelling the Gators to their first Final Four since 2012 — despite losing defender Becky Browndorf and attacker Emma LoPinto to Boston College.

“Mandee is just a really charismatic coach,” Amonte Hiller said. “Florida has done a great job supporting its women’s program, and I’m just really impressed with how she built it back up… There’s always ebbs and flows to coaching, and it speaks to her greatness that she’s brought her team back to the Final Four and been so dominant this year.”

Bitter rivals in the now-defunct American Lacrosse Conference, NU and Florida faced off 10 times between 2010 and 2014, with the Gators nabbing six victories.

Since May 17, 2014, the two teams have merely watched one another from a distance — until now.

“It’s a little bit more prep work when you’re playing against an unfamiliar opponent,” Amonte Hiller said. “I have a lot of respect for them, so (we’ll) just try to really get to know them … and get our game plan going. It’s a challenge for sure, but it’s a challenge for them as well.”

With attacker Maggi Hall entering the illustrious 50-goal, 50 assist club this season, Florida has a deep attacking arsenal capable of capitalizing just seconds off a draw or transition play. And, draw specialist Liz Harrison is among the nation’s best.

Although O’Leary’s squad packs an ability to score goals in bunches, having poured in nine first-quarter conversions in its quarterfinal victory over Maryland, graduate student goalkeeper Molly Laliberty said the ’Cats remain focused on themselves.

Friday will mark Laliberty’s fifth career Final Four appearance as the sixth-year netminder made the Division III semifinals in 2019, 2021 and 2022 with Tufts before winning a national title with NU in 2023.

“Our best preparation is playing Northwestern lacrosse,” Laliberty said. “We are always trying to prepare for all the situations a team might throw (at) us … The biggest focus is just on executing the things we know we can control, like our attitude, our focus, our effort.”

Along with a lightning-paced attack, the Gators possess a stout defensive unit capable of rendering dynamic scorers silent. They held James Madison attacker Maddie Epke — who scored 57 goals this season — to just three scores on 14 shots across two games.

Between the pipes, Florida goalkeeper Elyse Finnelle has proved pivotal throughout the postseason. Finnelle tallied 14 saves in the Gators’ first-round victory over UNC.

Although the ’Cats will be challenged on the offensive end, graduate student attacker Izzy Scane said she’s confident in her weekly preparation alongside the nation’s elite.

“It’s easy to perform in games when you play against the best players in the country,” Scane said. “The girls on and off the field — we have girls that scout for us and play defense like the teams we are going to see, and they’re typically better than the D’s we end up seeing in game.”

Temperatures for Friday’s contest are expected to be upward of 80 degrees in Cary, North Carolina, which the Gators are certainly more familiar with. As such, the ’Cats will have to beat the heat — and a charging challenger, too.

Carrying the lone Tewaaraton Finalists left standing in Taylor and Scane, NU will have no shortage of starpower in a stacked Final Four field. Entering her last weekend of college lacrosse, Scane said she’s taking nothing for granted.

“When I was a bit younger, I was a little more scared for the situation,” Scane said. “Now that I’m older, it’s allowed me to just enjoy and work my hardest to allow us to be successful.”

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Related Stories:

Lacrosse: No. 1 Northwestern trounces No. 8 Penn 20-7, advances to fifth consecutive Final Four

Lacrosse: No. 1 Northwestern seeks fifth consecutive Final Four appearance against No. 8 Penn

Lacrosse: Scane breaks all-time scoring record, No. 1 Northwestern downs Denver 17-4 in NCAA tournament win

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