EVANSTON, Ill. — With all five of their previous losses coming against ranked opponents, the No. 12 Northwestern Wildcats struggled yet again against the nation’s top talent, losing 2-1 at home to the No. 25 Ohio State Buckeyes. The loss deals a blow to NU’s Big Ten aspirations, as the Wildcats fell to 8-6, and 3-2 in Big Ten play.
“We knew Ohio State was probably the most improved — them and Rutgers are the two most improved teams in the Big Ten,” coach Tracey Fuchs said. “We just didn’t take it to them today, so hats off to them. I’m disappointed in our performance for sure.”
Both teams got off to a slow start offensively, generating just five shots total in the first 35 minutes. Locked in a defensive battle, the Wildcats failed to get a shot on target in the first period of play.
The Buckeyes broke the scoreless tie about eight minutes into the second half with a shot near the top of the circle, only for Puck Pentenga and Northwestern to answer just two minutes later.
Pentenga — the Wildcats’ most consistent source of offense on the day — let a laser go from the top of the circle off of a penalty corner to tie the game up at one. The goal was Pentenga’s ninth of the year, adding to her team-leading 27 points.
A minute after defensive anchor Kirsten Mansfield failed to put a rebound home following another Pentenga penalty corner shot, Ohio State capitalized on a penalty corner of its own to give the Buckeyes a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
The Wildcats pulled goalie Annie Kalfas with five minutes to go in the game but couldn’t use the extra attacker to generate another scoring chance, as Ohio State stood strong in its defensive end, largely keeping the ball out of its side of the field.
Northwestern ended the game with just two shots on target, well below its season average of 6.5.
“We didn’t come out with the right energy and work ethic today,” Fuchs said. “Corners are great. We needed to generate more, and we’ll work on that next week.”
The loss drops Northwestern to 8-6 on the year and 3-2 in an absolutely stacked Big Ten that boasts seven of the country’s top 25 teams.
The Wildcats will be back at home next weekend for a crucial slate of games against No. 15 Rutgers and No. 7 Penn State, needing at least one win to stay above .500.
“We’ve struggled against top-20 teams before, so we really just need to get ready and show that we’re better than them,” Pentenga said. “Next weekend is a great opportunity to shot that against Rutgers and Penn State, so we just want to show that we are ready and want to play for a home spot in the Big Ten tournament.”