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Northwestern's Madison Taylor dives for goal

Stars Matter: Taylor, Scane Lead Northwestern Back to NCAA Title Game

May 24, 2024
Brian Logue
Andy Mead

CARY, N.C. – Stars matter.

Two of Northwestern’s biggest stars – Tewaaraton finalists Izzy Scane and Madison Taylor – stepped up in a 15-11 victory over Florida at WakeMed Soccer Park that landed the Wildcats in the NCAA Division I championship game for the second straight year. Taylor scored five goals and Scane finished with four goals and an assist.

During a stretch from the end of the first quarter to midway through the third quarter, the duo combined for all eight of Northwestern’s goals as the Wildcats and Gators staged a nip-and-tuck battle.

With Northwestern leading 10-9 at the end of the third quarter, a lightning delay sent both teams to the locker room, evoking some painful memories for Northwestern.

Northwestern had a seven-goal lead against North Carolina heading into the fourth quarter in the semifinal round in 2022, only to lose after a lengthy delay. North Carolina outscored the Wildcats 9-1 in the final quarter for a wild 15-14 comeback win that season.

“When we went into the break with the rain delay, I think it was on the minds of the players … when we had the rain delay against UNC,” said Northwestern head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller. “I think they stayed very calm in the situation. I was really proud of the way they come out, really fearless out of that break and were able to close out the game for us.”

After the delay, Dylan Amonte and Lindsey Frank scored goals in the first 65 seconds of the fourth quarter and then Erin Coykendall and Taylor added tallies to make it 14-9 before Florida finally ended the run on a Danielle Pavinelli goal.

“I think this year I’m a lot more relaxed and having a lot more fun,” said Taylor, a sophomore who continues to raise her game to new levels and leads the Wildcats with 112 points. “I think that was a big thing we talked about today, especially in the rain delay. We were like, ‘We need to celebrate more.’ After the rain delay, we really did that, just celebrating all the little things and having so much fun with this group.”

Northwestern won 17 of 28 draws in the game, including the first three of the fourth quarter to help dominate possession time.

When Florida did get the ball in the fourth quarter, its top offensive threat was largely neutralized as Northwestern’s Hannah Gillespie face-guarded Maggi Hall, denying her the ball. Florida had Hall pull Gillespie out to the sidelines to stretch out the Northwestern defense, but the Gators weren’t able to capitalize on the extra space.

“It was frustrating at the end when I knew I couldn’t help, but I have a lot of faith in my team,” Hall said. “They did everything they could, and I know that I did everything I could, that was my role that game. Early in the game, I did my role, but at the end of the game my role was to give them their opportunities, to give them their lanes to 6 v 6.”

Hall led the Gators with five goals, including one in the fourth quarter when Florida forced a turnover on the ride, giving her a look in an unsettled situation. She finished the year with a school record 119 points on 65 goals and 54 assists.

Florida, the nation’s top-rated offense, was held to a season-low 11 goals. Northwestern’s draw advantage, solid defense and one of the best games of the season from goalie Molly Laliberty all factored in. Laliberty, the former Division III standout at Tufts who helped the Wildcats to a national title last season, made 10 saves, tied for her second-best total of the season.

Northwestern celebration
Northwestern is headed to the NCAA championship game for the second consecutive season.
Andy Mead

In addition to Scane and Taylor’s offensive fireworks, Northwestern got a hat trick from Frank, a grad transfer. Frank, an All-American at Richmond who helped Northwestern’s field hockey team reach the NCAA championship game in the fall, is beginning to emerge as another weapon to fear. She also had four goals in the quarterfinal win over Penn.

“I think it is a bit of a challenge to come in mid-year and find your niche,” Amonte Hiller said. “I think with each game that’s gone by, she’s getting better and better and better, like a fine wine, I guess. We’re hoping she can continue that.”

Northwestern won seven of the eight NCAA championships from 2005 to 2012, but then went over a decade before even reaching another championship game – which happened in last year’s championship season. They knew getting back was no sure thing.

“Sometimes when you win the previous year, you can kind of think you’re in the finals already, but I think playing such an amazing team in Florida really snapped us out of that,” Amonte Hiller said. “We saw all week long, watching film and in our prep … I felt like they were as dangerous as any team we’ve seen. Really, really dangerous.”

Florida had won 20 straight games, after beginning the season 0-2, to reach the NCAA semifinals for just the second time in program history and the first time since 2012.

“Going to the final four has been a dream of ours since we were little kids, said Pavinelli, a senior who scored three goals and added two assists. “Getting here, I’m just so proud of this team. Obviously, it ended a little bit earlier than we wanted it to, but I can’t be prouder. Every single person on this team put in the hard work, time and dedication every single day to get to this point. Just to have these few extra weeks with one another is just so special. This team is special, and this season was special.”

Now, Northwestern will try to complete its own special season. No one has won back-to-back championships since Amonte Hiller’s alma mater, Maryland, did it in 2014 and 2015.

“I can’t say enough for how grateful we are to be in a championship game on Sunday,” Amonte Hiller said. “We don’t take that lightly. It’s a pretty cool thing.”