Powered by one busy Izzy, Northwestern lacrosse is back within range of the summit

Scoring machine Izzy Scane and the No. 1-ranked Wildcats need three more wins for the program’s first national championship since 2012.

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Northwestern’s Izzy Scane plays against Michigan during the 2023 NCAA Women’s Lacrosse Championships.

Northwestern’s Izzy Scane plays against Michigan during the 2023 NCAA Women’s Lacrosse Championships.

Joshua Hoffman/Northwestern Athletics

For more than a year now, Izzy Scane has had “ODAAT” tattooed on the inside of her left wrist.

“One day at a time.”

A little message to herself, one she needed to see throughout the longest, quietest, most difficult period of her brilliant lacrosse career. The Northwestern attacker — who, when fit to play, scores so many goals at a time it makes one’s head spin just to look at the numbers — missed the entire 2022 season after tearing her right anterior cruciate ligament during an offseason scrimmage against Notre Dame.

“When you’re having a hard time,” Scane said Monday after a team practice at Martin Stadium in Evanston, “just know there’s always the next moment that can be better, will be better.”

And what could be better than Scane, leading the nation in goals (4.8) and points (6.5) per game in her gangbusters 2023 comeback, and the 18-1, No. 1-ranked Wildcats, who are three wins from a national championship? A victory Thursday on their home field against Loyola Maryland would punch their fourth straight ticket to the Final Four, which takes place next weekend in Cary, North Carolina.

There’s greatness happening right under our noses, people. We’d be fools not to notice it.

Let’s try to wrap our minds around what Scane, in her fourth season — with one more to go in 2024 — is doing. The nation’s active career leader in points per game (5.8) tied her own school record by scoring a preposterous 10 goals in one February outing against, poetically, Notre Dame. She had eight goals against Marquette, seven against Michigan and six against Penn State.

Imagine being counted on to show up to the field and find the back of the net not once, not twice, but over and over.

“There’s definitely pressure that comes with that,” Scane said, “but I think I’m very lucky to have that pressure. Not a lot of people are in the position I’m in, so I definitely don’t take that for granted.”

We should talk about Scane’s teammates, too, and not only because she insists that we do. Like Scane, senior attacker Erin Coykendall, ranking seventh nationally at a hair under five points per game, is one of five finalists for national player of the year. Attacker Hailey Rhatigan, a transfer from Mercer who ranks ninth in goals per game with 3.6, is the nation’s active leader in career goals — an eye-popping 282 of them, to Scane’s 271. Midfielder Samantha Smith and defender Samantha White give the Wildcats five All-Big Ten first-teamers.

How did coach Kelly Amonte Hiller get so lucky?

“We have a lot of great players,” Amonte Hiller said, “and a lot of great depth.”

But this isn’t her first great Northwestern team; not even close. From 2005 to 2012, the Wildcats won seven national championships in eight seasons under Amonte Hiller. They were on top of the world, a familiar place for a coach who’d been a two-time national player of the year at Maryland and a giant part of that school’s seven-year title streak from 1995 to 2001.

Kelly.JPG

Northwestern coach Kelly Amonte Hiller

Joshua Hoffman/Northwestern Athletics

Amonte Hiller — sister of former Blackhawks star Tony Amonte, whose daughter Dylan is the Wildcats’ fifth-leading goal scorer with 29 — isn’t sure she appreciated all that winning as much as she should have.

“While you’re going through it, you almost, like, expect to win,” she said. “It’s kind of unfortunate that you don’t get the full realm of how special it is until later on.”

Now 49, she is savoring the moments in what she believes is another championship in the making. But will the Wildcats, who’ve come so close to the mountaintop the last few seasons — without Scane a year ago, they lost a seven-goal lead to eventual champ North Carolina in the semifinals — climb that last step?

“Honestly, that’s really not even my focal point,” she said. “My focal point is just enjoying this journey. We have had a really special year. It’s been a lot of fun. It’s been a great group. And I’m just trying to do my best to help them extend that another week so we can extend it to the last possible point, and then we’ll put our best foot forward.

“If winning comes, then great — we’re going to really be excited about that — but we know that we’ve done a lot already, and we’re really proud of that.”

It all started with a loss, if you can believe it. The Wildcats dropped the season opener 16-15 in overtime at Syracuse, which currently is still alive and ranked No. 2. A title-game rematch is a distinct possibility.

Playing again for the first time since her injury, Scane was nervous and shaky with her shots, the first few of which went awry. But this was a dazzling sensation back in her element, the same mega-talent who’d been even more prolific in 2021, when she smashed school records with 6.1 goals and 7.8 points per game. As the game went on, she felt lifted by the good fortune of playing the sport she adores for the school she’d dreamed of playing for since middle school, when she made the first of frequent trips from Michigan to root on the Wildcats at Martin.

At Syracuse, all the Wildcats were rooting for her. And when she finally — inevitably — put one past the goalie in the second quarter, her teammates mobbed her, moving her to tears.

“I really felt like the people around me understood how much work I’d put in to get back to them,” she said, “and I knew that even if I never scored another lacrosse goal, I’d have the same kind of support from all of them. It was a really nice feeling.”

Yeah, well, she scored four more times before that game was done. It’s just how she rolls.

And these Wildcats haven’t stopped rolling since.

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