For the second straight time, Northwestern lacrosse is headed to Baltimore for a chance to claim its eighth national title.
The No. 2 Wildcats will face No. 3 Syracuse in the NCAA semifinals Friday following a dominant win over Duke in Evanston last weekend.
However, NU has historically been successful against the Orange in the postseason, defeating Syracuse in the 2019 quarterfinals to advance to the Final Four. But before the 2020 season was cancelled due to COVID-19, the Cats lost to Syracuse by five.
Both teams have transformed tremendously since that last face-off. The Cats went undefeated this season and were crowned Big Ten Champions, while Syracuse went as far as the Atlantic Coast Conference championship. With both programs clinching the second and third berth into the NCAA tournament, the matchup certainly won’t be quiet.
NU’s quarterfinal win over the Blue Devils sent a statement about its star-studded offense. Junior attacker Izzy Scane has had a strong season leading the unit, recording 94 goals — tied for the most in Division I lacrosse. The Tewaaraton Award finalist also broke the program’s single-game goal record in a March game against Rutgers and set a new single-season goal record in the squad’s Denver win.
Scane said the team is ecstatic to go to the Final Four again, especially with the uncertainty of this season due to the pandemic.
“We’re all super grateful and thankful that we’re back here again,” Scane said. “We (are happy) to celebrate together and play the game we love for another day.”
Scane gets support on the field from senior attacker Lauren Gilbert, graduate student attacker Lindsey McKone and graduate student midfielder Sammy Mueller, who all combined for 221 goals. Gilbert said having so many offensive threats on the field at one time makes their unit “deadly.”
Coach Kelly Amonte Hiller felt similarly, saying the attack would be a great threat against a strong Orange unit. Syracuse junior attacker Meaghan Tyrell and Syracuse freshman attacker Emma Ward are the Orange’s top offensive producers ranking first and third, respectively, in the program for goals. Two of Syracuse’s strongest offensive threats, junior attacker Megan Carney and graduate student attacker Emily Hawryschuk, are out for the rest of the season with ACL injuries.
“We just have to play good team defense,” Amonte Hiller said. “We have to play together, support each other, and stop goals.”
Senior defender Jill Girardi, one of the Cats’ top players on the draw, will have a tough battle against Syracuse on the circle. Draw specialist Morgan Widner and graduate student defender Ella Simkins have been a dynamic duo on the circle for the Orange, but Girardi is ready for the challenge, she said, and will rely heavily on Gilbert and McKone on the outside.
Although this is only NU’s second time competing against an ACC team this season, the players and coaches are not worried about the skepticism regarding their conference-only schedule.
Scane and Gilbert both played in the 2019 Final Four loss against Maryland at Homewood Field and agreed that the experience has prepared them for this year’s NCAA semifinal game. Gilbert said the extended preparation time due to COVID-19 has given the team a “chip on their shoulder.”
Amonte Hiller said the Cats’ last Final Four game wasn’t NU’s best outing, but she thinks the squad is ready to show themselves and play their game this time around.
“We’re very excited to be back,” Amonte Hiller said. ”(The 2019 Final Four) experience will help us handle this situation and give us confidence going into the weekend.”
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