Dominating Doucette Leads Northwestern Over Syracuse


EVANSTON, Ill. — Just minutes into the first quarter against Syracuse, Northwestern was trying to find its footing.

The Wildcats were flustered on the draw, losing the first two. When senior goalkeeper Madison Doucette made her first save of the matchup and sent the ball down to Northwestern’s offense, a spark came from an unlikely source.

Senior midfielder Allie Berkery crashed into the eight-meter, dodging and twisting past defenders to deliver a low, powerful shot. It was the first goal of her career, and it kickstarted a four-goal Wildcats’ run that set the tone for the rest of the matchup.

“A defender goal to start the game [gave] us so much energy,” attacker Lauren Gilbert said. “We talk a lot about throwing the first punch, and I think that really got us rolling. We kept going after them, attacking every moment, and ultimately, we broke their will.”

From there, nine different players scored to power Northwestern to its third consecutive Championship Weekend. The Wildcats took down the Orange 15-4, powered by four goals from Gilbert and Doucette’s 11 saves.

After Berkery kicked off the Wildcats’ initial run, Syracuse’s Olivia Adamson answered with just under five minutes left in the first to make it 4-2.

Northwestern then went on a 6-0 run spanning parts of the first, second and third quarters. At the end of the first half, the Wildcats led 6-2. By halftime, it was 9-2.

As Northwestern began to run up the score, Gilbert said the team continued to reset and stay on its toes.

“Just because we scored four goals, they could just as easily go and score four goals,” Gilbert said. “We can’t relax just because we’ve been doing well. We know how quickly the tides can turn.”

While the Wildcats’ offense took over, their defense held steady. Doucette played one of her strongest games in 2022, finishing with 11 saves for a 73-percent save rate.

The Orange kept Doucette on guard during the first half, when she made eight saves. Coach Kelly Amonte Hiller called Doucette’s performance “unreal,” saying she was well prepared for the shots she faced.

Ahead of the game, Doucette said she and graduate defender Ally Palermo, who guarded Syracuse’s leading scorer Meaghan Tyrrell, went through the exact shots Doucette wanted to face. Palermo and Northwestern’s defense gave her exactly what she wanted, Doucette said, playing a key role in her success. 

“The misconception, sometimes, is that if [the attacker] get a shot off, the defender hasn’t done their job,” Doucette said. “That’s absolutely not the case. The shots they were forcing, Ally in particular, were fantastic and it makes it so easy to do my job.”

Beyond the attack and defense, the Orange easily controlled the draw. Syracuse won 12 to Northwestern’s seven — including nine in the first half alone.

But the Orange failed to capitalize on this dominance, losing the ball to the Wildcats in transition multiple times. Syracuse coach Kayla Treanor said her team did a strong job on the draw, but struggling to get into an offensive flow limited the advantage.

Both programs’ scoring slowed in the second half, but Northwestern outscored Syracuse 6-2 to prevail. The Wildcats, now 16-4, recorded a number of ranked wins earlier this season, including victories over Michigan, Notre Dame and Syracuse.

But Northwestern struggled ahead of the NCAA tournament, falling to Big Ten foes Maryland and Rutgers by six-plus goals.

Doucette said the Wildcats knew they could have left either game as the winner. After re-evaluating in practice, she feels Northwestern has grown and learned from their mistakes in those matchups.

“We’ve done a tremendous job coming into our own and developing from those moments,” Doucette said. “We don’t want to repeat that. We want to grow from it.”

With the victory, the Wildcats also continued to rewrite the script after losing to the Orange by eight goals in the 2021 NCAA semifinal.

Earlier this season, Northwestern and Syracuse delivered a serious thriller, with the Wildcats prevailing to win 17-16 in overtime.

Amonte Hiller said her team didn’t rely too much on the previous game for preparation for Thursday, saying Syracuse is a completely different team than before with injuries. The Wildcats have changed too, Amonte Hiller said, growing in their belief in themselves.

Over the past five years, Northwestern and Syracuse have faced off seven times. The Wildcats now lead 4-3 over that period.

For Gilbert, who has seen the Orange in all seven games, some of the sweetest memories have come this season. Scoring the overtime game-winner in March was especially memorable, she said. But she said Thursday’s matchup was the “most special” — not just because of who Northwestern defeated, but how it did it.

“It gave me chills walking off the field today,” Gilbert said. “I was like, ‘Wow, if we continue to play like this, we’re unstoppable. We really are.’ I’ve never felt that strongly before.”


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