Northwestern field hockey (14-7, 5-3 B1G) officially secured its spot as one of 18 teams heading to the NCAA tournament on Sunday night. After a strong regular season and a final push in the Big Ten tournament, the Wildcats earned a well-deserved place recognizing them as one of the nation’s top teams this season.
The Big Ten Tournament that occurred over the weekend was a wild one for Northwestern. The Wildcats were able to get by Rutgers and advance to the tournament semifinals, but ultimately fell 2-1 to Iowa (after suffering a day-long ice delay) who went on to win the tournament. Without a conference title, Northwestern was in jeopardy of missing out on the NCAA tournament if they were unable to secure an at-large bid, especially if Penn State or another bid stealer secured a conference crown.
Luckily, Northwestern’s regular season efforts were enough to earn the ‘Cats one of eight at-large bids. They were the fourth Big Ten team in the field, joining the autobid-receiving Hawkeyes along with Maryland and Michigan. In their fifteenth tournament appearance in program history and first since 2017, the Wildcats draw Boston College as their first-round opponent — a team they beat 3-2 back in September when BC was the 13th-ranked team in the nation.
The Eagles (13-7) finished the regular season as the ninth-best team in the country after adding a late-season six-game win streak to an already-impressive resumé and then making a run to the ACC Tournament championship, where they fell to North Carolina, the top team in the country and defending national champions.
As an ACC team competing in the toughest conference in college field hockey, BC had an extremely difficult schedule. The Eagles faced 13 ranked opponents over the course of the season and earned seven ranked wins total. While Boston College defeated teams like Duke and Virginia, the Eagles fell to both of their Big Ten opponents, Maryland and Northwestern. They certainly improved over the course of the season and are different than the team Northwestern faced back in September.
Still, the Wildcats’ first matchup is absolutely winnable. Should they beat the Eagles, they will go on to face the winner of Michigan and No. 4 Louisville — one team they have beaten and one they have not yet faced this year.
The Wolverines (13-6) are coming off a tough Big Ten tournament after losing to five-seed Penn State in the first round. Back in September, Northwestern defeated Michigan 1-0 in a shootout for the first time in four years (they were 0-7 against them in that span, with U of M ending their season in both 2017 and 2018). Again, Northwestern knows this matchup is winnable, should they face the Wolverines in the second round.
Louisville, on the other hand, is a team Northwestern did not face this year. Northwestern last took on the Cardinals last season, falling 1-0. Louisville finished the regular season ranked sixth in the nation, with a 15-5 overall record. However, after defeating Syracuse in the first round of the ACC tournament, the Cardinals fell to the aforementioned Tar Heels.
Northwestern certainly could get by the Cardinals as well, and would then go on to likely face UNC in the Final Four, a tough draw for anybody. However, the road to the semis is certainly manageable.
The Wildcats were placed in a similar situation last time they made the tournament in 2017. They faced eighth-ranked Louisville in the first round and advanced after a 3-2 overtime win. From there, they took on the third-ranked Wolverines but fell 3-0 in the quarterfinals.
Hopefully this season, head coach Tracey Fuchs and the Wildcats will flip the script, getting by both Boston College and whichever team they face in the second round to make the Final Four in Winston Salem for what would be the fifth time in program history.
Northwestern will take on Boston College in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Friday, November 15th in Louisville at 1:30 p.m. CST. Were they to make the second round, that game would be played on Sunday at a time TBD.