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Sammy White and Northwestern are still loaded with talent.

Way Early 2024 Rankings: Nos. 5-1 (Division I Women)

August 25, 2023
Beth Ann Mayer
Peyton Williams

Summer sure went fast, huh? It seems like yesterday that Northwestern hoisted the NCAA championship trophy in Cary, N.C. But alas, students are making their way back to campuses across the nation, and thus the dawn of the next NCAA women’s lacrosse season is here.

As we here at USA Lacrosse Magazine do every year, we’re taking a crack at ranking the Top 25 programs in the country before the fall exhibition season begins. Check back each day this week as we break down another five-team segment, ending with Nos. 5-1 on Friday.


Division I Men
No. 25 - No. 21
No. 20 - No. 16
No. 15 - No. 11
No. 10 - No. 6
No. 5 - No. 1
Division I Women
No. 25 - No. 21
No. 20 - No. 16
No. 15 - No. 11
No. 10 - No. 6
No. 5 - No. 1


2023 Record: 18-3 (8-1 ACC)

Last seen: Syracuse led 7-5 entering the fourth quarter against Boston College in the national semifinals. Then the Eagles shut down the Orange offense, which finished 2023 ranked fourth in Division I, sending Syracuse back to the Salt City with an 8-7 loss.

Initial forecast: Tewaaraton finalist Meaghan Tyrrell (55 G, 52 A) and Megan Carney (59 G, 7 A) are gone, but the Orange have enough offensive talent returning in Emma Ward (38 G, 56 A), Emma Tyrrell (52 G, 16 A, 30 DC) and Olivia Adamson (30 G, 21 A, 107 DC) to feel confident that the unit that averaged 16.05 goals per game in 2023 will be just fine. Ward, in particular, is a masterful distributor from X who also has a nose for the net. And Adamson’s prowess in the circle proved crucial when Kate Mashewske sustained an injury.

Delaney Sweitzer returns in net after an All-American performance in 2023 that saw her finish eighth nationally with a 50.5-percent save percentage. Katie Goodale (27 GB, 27 CT), Natalie Smith (13 GB, 12 CT) and Maddy Baxter (17 GB, 13 CT) are among the top returners who should help shore up the defense and midfield.

The big questions are the same as the ones entering the last few years: Can Syracuse stay healthy? Can the Orange win big games in May? The latter is far more within Syracuse’s control than the former. Syracuse will be in the mix for the top spot in the nation’s most competitive conference. Getting over the hump, winning a conference crown and the school’s first national title will mean peaking at the right time and bucking a trend of falling short in the biggest spots. 


2023 Record: 22-1 (6-0 Big Ten)

Last seen:  Denver’s historic run to its first Final Four ended with a 15-7 loss to eventual champion Northwestern. It was the Pioneers’ only loss of the season and the lone time their zone defense yielded double-digit goals. 

Initial forecast: Banking on the Pios being a one-year wonder? Have at it.

But know that the coaching staff isn’t resting on its laurels. The defense was spectacular in 2023, letting in a Division I-low 6.22 goals per game. But it’s the offensive additions making headlines in the offseason. Denver’s offense ranked 60th nationally (11.91 goals per game), often leaning hard on Julia Gilbert (59 G, 8 A). Liza Kelly said the methodical approach was by design, giving Emelia Bohi and the defense time to learn one another last season. With that clearly taken care of, look for a faster-paced offense to take more risks. Gilbert will have help on the right side, courtesy of two-time Division III IWLCA Player of the Year Jane Earley, who led Middlebury with 106 points and 138 draws and to a national championship in 2023.

Yale transfer Olivia Penoyer (40 assists) will likely quarterback the offense. Her vision should help get more players involved. Payton Vaughn, also from Yale, should lessen the impact of Ellie Curry’s graduation (32 G, 12 A, 27 GB, 16 CT). Add the transfers to a group that also returns Ryan Dineen (31 G, 26 A) and Lauren Black (37 G, 7 A), and you’ve got yourself a formidable unit.

Speaking of formidable, the defense will be. IWLCA Defender of the Year Sam Thacker has exited, but Trinity McPherson (and her speed) returns. McPherson contributed 61 ground balls, 61 draws and 39 caused turnovers last year. Bryn McCaughey (42 GB, 42 CT) and Bohi (6.43 GAA, .504 SV%) are also critical veterans on their way back to Denver. The Pios are the odds-on favorites to be the class of the Big East and will enter the year with a newfound target on their backs. If you watched their blue-collar play last season, you know they’ll likely embrace the challenge that comes with not sneaking up on people.


2023 Record: 16-5 (7-2 AAC)

Last seen: Unable to crack Denver’s zone defense, North Carolina saw its one-year reign end in a 5-4 quarterfinal loss.

Initial forecast: Last year’s projections around UNC centered around how the 2022 NCAA champion would replace everyone from Taylor Moreno in net to Jamie Ortega on attack (and Emma Trenchard, Ally Mastroianni, et al. in between). The outlook is far different for the Tar Heels as fall ball begins, with much of the talent from last year’s NCAA tournament team coming back. The old cliché goes that you can’t teach experience, and UNC won’t have to.

Offensively, the Tar Heels return their four leading scorers in Reilly Casey (38 G, 34 A), Caitlyn Wurzburger (37 G, 35 A), Caroline Godine (31 G, 24 A) and Marissa White (46 G, 3 A). The key addition, USA Lacrosse High School Player of the Year Chloe Humphrey, will have plenty of help getting adjusted, but the Darien (Conn.) great will likely be an impact player from the moment she steps foot in Chapel Hill.

Emily Nalls (33 GB, 30 CT), Ellie Traggio (15 GB, 18 CT), Brooklyn Walker-Welch (29 GB, 18 CT) and Alecia Nicholas (8.51 GAA, .466 SV%) will bolster the athletic, hard-to-crack 1-v-1 defense that finished sixth in Division I in scoring defense at 8.43 goals allowed per game.


2023 Record: 19-4 (8-1 ACC)

Last seen: Boston College advanced to the NCAA championship game for the sixth full season in a row but went out with an uncharacteristic whimper, falling to Northwestern 18-6.

Initial forecast: On paper, this offense is simply loaded. Tewaaraton Award finalist and leading scorer Jenn Medjid graduated, but the Eagles brought in two top-flight transfers in Florida’s Emma LoPinto and Virginia’s Rachel Clark. LoPinto is a crafty attacker with multiple tools, boasting an ability to dodge, feed, score and thrive in a two-man offense. She led Florida with 62 goals and 90 points last season. Clark was an offensive powerhouse for Virginia, where she led the Cavs with 63 goals and 76 points. She brings experience playing in the nation’s best conference.

Speaking of experience, the Eagles already had plenty returning before they snagged LoPinto and Clark. Belle Smith (perhaps you’ve heard of her) is one. The true two-way midfielder posted 52 goals, 31 assists, 17 caused turnovers and 38 ground balls last year. Mckenna Davis (26 G, 62 A) and Kayla Martello (61 G, 7 A) are also among the top offensive players back for 2024.

The Eagles also return defensive leaders in Sydney Scales (41 GB, 37 CT) and Hunter Roman (32 GB, 26 CT). And Shea Dolce (8.84 GAA, .467 SV%) is also back after a standout run as a freshman starter in the cage. When BC swapped the then-rookie in for Rachel Hall, it jumpstarted an Eagles team that had lost by double-digits to UNC, fueling the Final Four run.

In short, top to bottom, the Eagles are arguably the best team in the country on paper. But the No. 1 team and its fans would likely have something to say about that.


2023 Record: 21-1 (6-0 Big Ten)

Last seen: Leaving zero doubt as to who the best team in the country was in a lopsided 18-6 win over Boston College in the NCAA championship game. The title was the first for Northwestern since 2012 and also sealed Izzy Scane’s case for the Tewaaraton Award.

Initial forecast: Izzy Scane is back for another year, and the lacrosse world is more fun for it. The Division I leader in goals per game (4.95) on the nation’s top scoring offense (16.95) will be on record watch all season. With 288 career goals, Scane enters her graduate season 70 shy of Charlotte North’s all-time mark of 358.

Erin Coykendall, who joined her on the Tewaaraton finalist stage, could also be back. Coykendall led the Wildcats with 50 assists and ranked second in points with 108. Northwestern adds Mary Schumar from Marquette, another established feeder. Schumar dished eight assists when the Golden Eagles and Northwestern squared off during the regular season and led Marquette with 69 assists and 89 points.

Northwestern will hope to have a similar experience with Schumar that they had with last year’s key grad transfer. Hailey Rhatigan (62 G, 11 A) provided a spark after transferring from Mercer for a fifth year. She’s gone, but Madison Taylor (53 G, 17 A, 56 DC) returns after an impressive freshman year, where she staked claim to the idea that she’s the Wildcats’ future star once Scane graduates, much to the delight of Northwestern’s foes (but sad for the rest of us).

If the defense was Northwestern’s Achilles’ heel during previous Final Four losses, it was not in 2023. For all the (deserved) attention Scane and the offense got, it was defensive-focused midfielder Samantha White’s do-it-all performance in the national championship game that turned heads. She’s back after a season that saw her tally 68 draws, 42 ground balls and 31 caused turnovers. Another key returner with the same first name, Samantha Smith, led Northwestern with 121 draw controls and will provide the potent offense with instant opportunities once more.

Northwestern will face stiff competition from Boston College and North Carolina — and if Maryland returns to form, that’ll also provide a challenge for the conference and national crown. But for now, the defending champion returns too much talent to knock it off its perch so soon after making confetti angels in Cary, N.C.