In hosting the Big Ten Tournament for the first time ever, No. 13 Rutgers women’s lacrosse took advantage of the opportunity in a major way on rainy Friday night. As the No. 3 seed facing No. 2 seed Northwestern in the semifinals, the Scarlet Knights delivered its most impressive performance of the season with a 13-5 victory. The program advances to the Big Ten Championship game for the first time ever and will face No. 3 Maryland (16-1; 6-0), the regular season champion, on Sunday at noon at SHI Stadium.
Rutgers suffered a lopsided loss at No. 4 Northwestern (13-4) on April 7 by the score of 21-13. In the rematch, RU held a 3-2 lead after the first quarter before taking control soon after and never looking back. An 8-2 run spread over the second and third quarter deflated the Wildcats. It made the outcome feel inevitable entering the final frame of the game as the Scarlet Knights defeated Northwestern for the first time ever after losing the first 16 meetings. It was also the program’s first ever win over a top five opponent.
“These girls played their hearts out,” said head coach Melissa Lehman. “They had this game circled for so long and left their hearts out on the field. I’m so proud of the fight and grit they had tonight.”
First Team All-Big Ten selection Cassidy Spilis scored five times, all of them coming in a row in a crucial part of the game that extended Rutgers’ lead from 3-2 to 8-3. She added a late assist and set a new program mark for most goals in a season.
11:52 Q2 | GOAL! Cassidy Spilis sets our program record for goals in a season with her 61st! We lead, 5-2! pic.twitter.com/BUnzu3xxBc— Rutgers Women's Lacrosse (@rutgers_wlax) May 7, 2022
The program’s points leader, Taralyn Naslonski, delivered a hat trick while Stephanie Kelly produced a pair of goals and assists. Marin Hartshorn added two goals as well as Mikayla Dever scoring once.
Goalkeeper Sophia Cardello was fantastic in the net, making 12 saves and only allowing 5 goals in the game. First Team All-Big Ten junior Meghan Ball led the defense with six ground balls, three draw controls, and three caused turnovers.
“We spoke about starting strong and finishing strong, and that’s exactly what we did tonight,” Ball said. “We pushed the pace, caused turnovers and gave our offense opportunities to score. We needed to play well in all four quarters to beat this team and that’s what we were able to do.”
This felt like a program altering moment for this Melissa Lehman’s team in that the ceiling has been raised. The way this team stepped up and were the aggressors against a higher ranked team that had just dominated them a month ago is the sign of a mentally strong program. Head coach Melissa Lehman is only in her third year but the turnaround she has already manufactured has been nothing short of impressive. With the win on Friday, Rutgers improved to 15-3 this season and earning the most wins in a season in program history.
The Scarlet Knights will look to pull another upset on Sunday against the Terps in Piscataway. It won’t be easy as RU lost 16-6 at Maryland on March 20.
The game will air live on BTN and for more information on how to attend, click here. Later on Sunday, the NCAA Tournament selection show will take place. Rutgers is in a strong position to earn its second consecutive bid for the first time in program history regardless of the outcome in the title game.
This is the first time Rutgers has had FOUR different programs in the same academic year advance to Big Ten Tournament Championship game. Field Hockey was first RU team to ever win it. Women’s soccer lost before making Final Four. Now both lacrosse teams will play this weekend.— Aaron Breitman (@aaron_breitman) May 7, 2022