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Northwestern celebrates making their fifth-straight trip to the NCAA semifinals.

Coykendall Carries Northwestern Back to Cary with 11 Points in Quarterfinals

May 16, 2024
Charlotte Varnes
Northwestern Athletics

EVANSTON, Ill. — Whenever Penn’s defense took care of one Northwestern attacker Thursday night, another seemed to emerge out of thin air.

As defenders slid to Izzy Scane in the second quarter, Erin Coykendall made a quick, stutter-step cut into the eight-meter arc. When Madison Taylor opted to defer a free position shot in the third quarter, in came Coykendall for another goal.

Northwestern’s three biggest threats — Scane, Coykendall and Taylor — connected perhaps the best they have all season to total a combined 13 goals and 11 assists, as the top-seeded Wildcats routed eighth-seeded Penn 20-7 in the last of four NCAA quarterfinal.

“[Success came from] everyone coming and doing something for someone next to you, whether it’s cutting or sealing or setting a pick,” said Coykendall, who produced a game-high 11 points (four goals, seven assists).

The Wildcats, bound for their fifth consecutive NCAA semifinal appearance, emerged victorious after a back-and-forth start. Penn dominated the draw and possession early, relying on quick passes and cutters to stymie the Wildcat defense and score the opening goal.

Both teams struggled against each other’s defenses in the first half. The Quakers’ unit was stifling, knocking down lazy passes and getting active in passing lanes. The Wildcats were vigilant in close, causing several turnovers and racing out in transition.

Defender Kendall Halpern said the unit tried to dictate the game through its high-pressure zone, which helped cause turnovers and fuel the attack.

Coykendall also credited that defensive performance for getting the Wildcats’ offense moving.

“Seeing our defense have our backs when we weren’t really converting offensively gave us confidence like, ‘Oh, we’ll get the shots to fall,’” Coykendall said. “That could’ve gone pretty differently had they not played so [well].” 

Slowly but surely, the Wildcats got things going in the second quarter. The barrage began with a long possession two minutes into the period, as Northwestern steadily moved the ball and cutters flitted in and out. Scane dug her way past two defenders on the wing, then worked past another pair inside the arc to put the Cats up 5-3.

Then came two consecutive goals: a perfectly timed feed from Scane to Lindsey Frank waiting in front of the goal, then a fast-break goal featuring multiple Coykendall fakes as she waited on defenders to catch her.

Once the Wildcats started scoring, they never stopped. Northwestern outscored Penn 8-2 in the second quarter en route to an 11-4 halftime lead.

Penn had a strong defense, Coykendall said, but the Wildcats’ attack was also stagnant during the first quarter. Overcoming that proved key in their second-quarter surge.

“Once we started to move the ball and ourselves and cut through and get the ball bumping, that’s when we saw those openings happen,” Coykendall said. “We just let them get comfortable in the first quarter.”

Dominance on the draw also proved a major tipping point for the Wildcats. Penn was steady on the draw at first, entering the second quarter even with Northwestern at 3 draws apiece. But the Wildcats’ draw team, anchored by freshman Madison Smith, gained the upper hand. The group won 13 draws to Penn’s seven in the second and third quarters, paving the way for a series of strong possessions.

Northwestern continued to dominate in the third quarter, excelling at a variety of attacking scenarios — a fast break, a free position, a balanced possession with cutters running through the eight-meter. The Quakers scored a handful of goals as Northwestern brought on several substitutions in the fourth quarter, but the double-digit lead proved too difficult to overcome.

Now the Wildcats head to Cary, N.C., to face Florida on Friday. The teams last met in an NCAA tournament game in May 2014, which Northwestern won 12-11 in overtime.

With Thursday's win, Northwestern’s seniors, fifth years and sixth years (Scane) have never been part of a team that didn’t make it to Championship Weekend.

Halpern, who posted three ground balls and two caused turnovers, said she teared up after the game thinking about the memories she’s made over the course of her four seasons. But she’s also looking ahead, ready to seize the moment in Cary.

“[Making the Final Four] is the standard here at Northwestern,” Halpern said. “You come for that. … We’ve learned so much, and we’re so excited for another opportunity. Why not take full advantage of that?”