fb-pixel Skip to main content
College Lacrosse

Former Tufts star goalie Molly Laliberty now backstops the top-ranked women’s lacrosse team in the nation

Molly Laliberty (32) has started all 19 of Northwestern's games this season.Ryan Kuttler/Ryan Kuttler/Northwestern Athletics

Some in college athletics decry the transfer portal, claiming that it allows college athletes to be fickle and avoid difficult situations.

Then there are student-athletes such as Molly Laliberty, who used it to challenge herself.

A two-time Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association Division 3 Goalie of the Year at Tufts, Laliberty graduated with bachelor’s degrees in psychology and English last May and thought her playing days were done. While on a post-graduation trip to Europe, however, she had a change of heart.

Laliberty, a standout for Newburyport during her high school years, had always wondered whether she could have competed at the Division 1 level. Much of her recruiting attention came from Division 3 schools, and she wasn’t going to turn down the chance to get a Tufts education. But the thought that she could play against the sport’s best stuck with her.


“I didn’t leave Tufts because I had a bad experience,” said Laliberty. “I wanted to see if I could play at the Division 1 level.”

With the backing of her Tufts coaches and teammates, Laliberty transferred to Northwestern and never looked back. She hasn’t just played at the Division 1 level, she has thrived, picking up Big Ten accolades and fulfilling her dream.

The top-seeded Wildcats began play in the NCAA tournament Sunday with a second-round victory over Michigan, with Laliberty as their starting goalie.

At Tufts, she made 405 saves over her four-year career, leading the Jumbos to the Division 3 championship games in 2021 and 2022. Then she placed her name in the transfer portal, and Northwestern came calling. The Wildcats had made it to the Division 1 semifinals in 2022, but lost to eventual national champion North Carolina. They were returning some of the best attackers in lacrosse, but needed depth in goal.

Wildcats coach Kelly Amonte Hiller — a nine-time NCAA champion, including two as a player — could not guarantee Laliberty a starting job. But she promised a chance.


“Nothing is ever promised,” said Laliberty. “They made it clear to me in the recruiting process that I was in the mix but I had to compete for the job, and that was fine. I don’t want to be a part of a team where it was guaranteed.”

The chance was enough for Laliberty. She gained acceptance to a business certificate program at Northwestern and started part two of her college lacrosse career.

Though Northwestern meant a step up in play and a move to the Chicago area, it also represented familiarity for Laliberty. She is one of six Massachusetts players on the roster, and Hiller herself is from Hingham. Some of Laliberty’s new teammates were players she had seen throughout her teenage years on the club circuit and in high school.

Laliberty wasn’t eased into her new role, either. Her first start came in the season opener against Syracuse, another powerhouse that spent most of the regular season ranked at the top of the national polls. She made six saves in a 16-15 loss. It was the last time Northwestern lost in the regular season.

The Wildcats have dominated, winning 18 straight games and outscoring opponents, 324-177. Laliberty has a 9.06 goals against average and a .468 save percentage, and was named to the Big Ten Second Team.

Molly Laliberty and Northwestern defeated Michigan, 8-7, Sunday in the second round of the NCAA tournament.Ryan Kuttler/Ryan Kuttler/Northwestern Athletics

She was seeing some of the best shooters in Division 3 with Tufts, but Division 1 shots can come from directions Laliberty hadn’t faced before.


“The biggest difference is the caliber of the shots,” said Laliberty. “There are different angles and everyone is so fast. At the Division 3 level, there was a lot more predictability, which wasn’t a bad thing. Here there isn’t as much of a pattern. I’m lucky that I have the best attackers in the nation to practice with every day.”

Those attackers include Norwell’s Dylan Amonte (28 goals, 7 assists) and Cohasset’s Elle Hansen (20 goals, 13 assists). Hansen’s shot selection might be the most familiar to Laliberty, as the two faced off in the 2017 MIAA Division 2 semifinals.

Leading the way for the Wildcats is Izzy Scane, who spent summers in high school playing for Canton’s Mass Elite club program. Considered by many to be the game’s best player this year, she has 81 goals and 27 assists. Scane missed last season because of injury, and Northwestern still made the NCAA semifinals. With her, they have been even better.

“Because we have played such a wide range of teams this season, it’s less about having a whole new game plan for each opponent,” said Laliberty. “I try to focus on the execution of our game plan, because you could plan as much as possible for an opponent, and they could come out and play entirely differently.”

Always thoughtful about her time in the cage or off the field, Laliberty is pleased that she decided to challenge herself. It’s not just because she is on the top squad in the nation, but more because she took the risk and followed the game she loves.


“This has made it really clear that you need to go for your passions,” said Laliberty. “We aren’t guaranteed anything. We aren’t guaranteed tomorrow. Chasing what makes you happy is important.

“It’s the best decision I could have made.”

Kat Cornetta can be reached at sportsgirlkat@gmail.com.