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Field hockey: Tough loss to Iowa leaves the Wildcats on the wrong side of the bubble

Northwestern has work to do in the Big Ten Tournament to reach the NCAAs.

No. 11 Northwestern field hockey (12-6. 4-3 B1G) dropped a must-win top-ten conference matchup against No. 9 Iowa this weekend, leaving the team in jeopardy heading into the postseason.

The Wildcats fell 2-1 to the Hawkeyes on the road, putting up the best fight they could against top Big Ten talent. Northwestern took the early lead and commanded the momentum in the first quarter after Saar de Breij found her eighth goal of the year, extending her single-season career high. Bente Baekers had the assist and now leads the Big Ten in points with 46.

Northwestern maintained the lead at half, but Iowa quickly tied things up in the third. Midway through the fourth, Maddy Murphy found the back of the net in transition, giving the Hawkeyes the 2-1 lead to which Northwestern could find no response.

Northwestern’s typically strong offense was completely shut down by the Iowa defense. The Wildcats only fired off two shots the whole day. However, the Wildcats’ defensive efforts were comparable to those of the Hawkeyes, holding Iowa to only nine shots on the day and coming up with three saves, two from Florien Marcussen and one from first-year back Alia Marshall.

The loss has huge post-season implications for the Wildcats, who have dropped a few must-win conference games in the past few weeks. Northwestern unfortunately competes in an extremely talented Big Ten conference, and a win over Iowa could have earned the Wildcats a potential third seed in the tournament, but now their seeding is still undecided.

Maryland is set as the No. 1 seed in the tournament and already earned a share of the title this year. Iowa currently sits at No. 2 with a 6-1 conference record but faces three-seed Michigan this weekend who is just one game behind. That game will determine both teams’ seedings.

Northwestern is almost guaranteed to play Rutgers in the first round, but the seeding is still up in the air. Both Northwestern and Rutgers hold a 4-3 conference record, but Northwestern won the head-to-head. If the Wildcats can pull out a win this weekend, or if the Scarlet Knights lose to Penn State, Northwestern will hold the four seed.

The race for the other half of the conference title will be a tight one. If Northwestern can get by Rutgers, they will likely face Maryland and either Iowa or Michigan later in the tournament. However, the Big Ten outcomes have been extremely inconsistent this year. Northwestern defeated Michigan. Michigan defeated Maryland, but Maryland defeated Northwestern. While Maryland has shown dominant play in the past few weeks, anything can happen and there is a great chance we will see an unexpected victor.

The ‘Cats will take on Indiana at home on Friday for senior night and their final game of the regular season. Northwestern should be able to demolish Indiana, one of the worst teams in college field hockey, and honor a great bunch of seniors before gearing up for post-season play.