Northwestern finished its regular season with a dominant 6-0 senior day victory over Indiana on Friday, earning the Wildcats the third seed heading into the all-important Big Ten tournament. The ‘Cats finalized a 13-6 overall regular season record and a 5-3 conference record with the win and regained some confidence before entering the post-season.
Northwestern had a standout offensive performance, tallying a whopping 30 shots, 12 penalty corners and six goals on the day. The seniors, who were honored pregame, accounted for half of the day’s goals, with scores coming from Lily Gandhi, Saar de Breij and Kirsten Mansfield.
First-year Ana Medina Garcia continued her late-season hot streak and kicked things off with Northwestern’s first goal of the day. Bente Baekers added one soon after off a penalty corner to give Northwestern the 2-0 lead at half.
Gandhi extended the lead to three at the start of the second half with her first score of the season, before De Breij charted her ninth of the year off a rebound to make the lead four.
Bente Baekers later added her second of the game off another corner to extend her nation-leading tally to 24, with Mansfield quickly delivering the final blow of the game in the fourth. She also recorded two assists on the day and leads the team with 16 on the year.
The Wildcats’ victory and Michigan’s loss earned them the third seed in the conference tournament this weekend at Penn State, where they will take on sixth-seeded Rutgers in the first round. Iowa defeated Michigan, which put Northwestern and Michigan in a tie; however, Northwestern won the head-to-head earlier this year, giving them the advantage.
Northwestern defeated Rutgers 4-1 on the road on Oct. 13 during an especially difficult stretch of the season. If the Wildcats can get past the Scarlet Knights again, they will face the winner of second-seeded Iowa and #7 Ohio State in the semifinals. Northwestern defeated the Buckeyes 4-1 back in September when OSU was ranked twelfth in the nation. However, they fell to the eighth-ranked Hawkeyes 2-1 last week.
From there, Northwestern would take on the winner of one-seed Maryland and either four-seed Michigan or five-seed Penn State in the championship on Sunday to earn a share of the conference title.
Northwestern’s road to the Big Ten title is absolutely manageable. They have either defeated or come within one goal of every team they could face. The Wildcats are tough competition for just about anyone in the nation at this point, and they are back on track with the momentum they need heading into the tournament.
If NU brings the dominant play that they have for most of the season, they have a great shot at the conference title on Sunday and the NCAA Tournament outbid that comes with it.
Northwestern will travel to University Park, Pennsylvania to kick off its postseason against Rutgers on Thursday at 5 p.m. CST.