Northwestern Solves Denver Defense, Advances to NCAA Title Game


Izzy Scane scored six goals and added two assists in Northwestern's 15-7 semifinal win over Denver.

CARY, N.C. — The ghosts of last season have officially vanished.

Northwestern, which lost a seven-goal lead in the final 10 minutes of last year’s NCAA semifinal loss to North Carolina, suffered no such lapse Friday afternoon at the WakeMed Soccer Park. The top-seeded Wildcats dominated unbeaten Denver 15-7 to advance to the NCAA Division I Women’s Lacrosse Championship game for the first time since 2012.

The 2012 trip resulted in a national championship — Northwestern’s seventh in an eight-year span. The Wildcats have remained one of the sport’s top programs, but head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller has a greater appreciation after a decade away from the biggest stage.

“It feels unbelievable,” Amonte Hiller said. “When you continue to win championships, you kind of just expect it from yourself. When it doesn’t happen, you get really humbled and you realize what you have and how hard it really is. There are so many great programs out there fighting every single day for the same thing. For us to be one of the last two teams standing, we’re really, really grateful for that, and we’re trying to soak up this opportunity and savor every moment.”

Star attacker Izzy Scane, one of two Northwestern finalists for the Tewaaraton Award this year alongside Erin Coykendall, was on the sideline during last year’s semifinal loss due to a season-ending injury. She’s come back better than ever.

Scane scored six times and added two assists and showed her versatility with a team-high three caused turnovers. Scane, who won a U19 world championship with Amonte Hiller serving as the U.S. head coach in 2019, also appreciates getting Northwestern back to the top of the sport.


Northwestern was happy to celebrate reaching the NCAA championship game for the first time since 2012.

“When I started playing lacrosse was when Northwestern was kind of on their streak of national championships,” said Scane, a Midwestern product out of Cranbook Kingswood (Mich.) High School. “I decided I was going to play for Northwestern without really knowing anything about the program, knowing nothing about the school. That was the team to be on.

“It’s been a dream come true to be here and find success so far. Obviously, we haven’t done the full thing, but just to be anywhere near the discussion of teams she’s had in the past is an honor.”

The Wildcats got to the championship by beating a Denver team defined by defense. The Pioneers came into the game leading the nation in scoring defense (5.82 goals per game), but Northwestern showed it can play on that end of the field as well.

Northwestern kept Denver off the scoreboard for the entirety of the second quarter, turning a 4-2 deficit into a 6-4 halftime lead. Northwestern forced the Pioneers into one shot clock violation and two other possessions the shot clock dipped below 10 seconds in a dominant 15 minutes of play.

Denver scored first to open the second half, with Trinity McPherson triggering a fast break goal finished by Kayla DeRose to pull the Pioneers within a goal, but it was all Northwestern from there. The Wildcats scored the game’s next nine goals before Denver scored twice in the closing minutes after the game was well in-hand.

The 15 goals scored by Northwestern was six more than Denver had allowed in any game this season.

Helping to fuel Northwestern’s defensive shutdown was graduate transfer goalie Molly Laliberty, the IWLCA Division III Goalie of the Year last year at Tufts. She’s been solid all year and was stellar on Friday, making eight saves while allowing just five goals.

“I feel really grateful that Kelly and the coaching staff were willing to take a risk on me because it is a bit of a jump from D-III to D-I,” Laliberty said. “At the end of the day, it’s still lacrosse, and I’m just out there doing the thing I love with the people I love.”

Laliberty wasn’t the only newcomer to make a big impact.

Hailey Rhatigan, a 121-point scorer at Mercer last season, scored four times on Friday and played a pivotal role as Northwestern took the lead. She buried a free position shot to tie the score at 4 midway through the second quarter, caused a turnover on the ride to set up freshman Madison Taylor’s go-ahead goal and then scored the final goal of the first half to give the Wildcats their two-goal halftime edge.

Rhatigan and Scane each scored twice in the third quarter, as the Wildcats stretched the lead to 11-5, and Scane had two goals and two assists in the fourth quarter as Northwestern closed out the game.

Denver, making its first trip to the NCAA semifinals, had its perfect season end, finishing the year 22-1. Kayla DeRose led the Pioneers with three goals.

“I told them in the locker room that I absolutely hate losing and feel really happy that we haven’t done it yet this season,” Denver head coach Liza Kelly said. “Only one team wins at the end of the year, and Northwestern played a great game.

“I’m just so proud of everything this team has done, in particular the senior class. They have led us every step of the way with their heart, their work, their passion, their love for all things Denver. They’ve left an incredible legacy behind them.”

Northwestern will meet No. 3 Boston College in Sunday’s championship game at 12 noon on ESPN. Northwestern has won 20 straight games since dropping its opener 16-15 to Syracuse. Boston College is making its sixth straight appearance in the national championship game. The Eagles are coached by Acacia Walker who was an assistant coach on Northwestern's 2006, 2007 and 2008 national championship teams.


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