After a season defined by strong senior leadership, Northwestern field hockey returns in 2019 with hopes of filling the gaps left by some of the programs’ all-time greatest.
The Wildcats finished their 2018 campaign ranked 27th in the nation with a 9-10 overall record and 3-5 mark in the Big Ten. Consistently faced with top-notch talent throughout the year, Northwestern faltered in conference play, and the Wildcats’ season was ultimately cut short by a 3-1 loss in the Big Ten tournament to second-seeded Michigan.
While head coach Tracey Fuchs and her squad faced some tough breaks in 2018, this season won’t be any easier. The Big Ten is one of the best conferences in collegiate field hockey. Last season, Maryland finished second in the country after a hard-fought National Championship game against North Carolina. Michigan, Iowa, Rutgers, Penn State and Ohio State also all finished ranked in the top 25.
As has been typical for any Fuchs-coached Northwestern side, the Wildcats will play one of the toughest possible schedules this year. Of their 20 games, a whopping 13 are against opponents who were consensus top-25 teams to end 2018. Not only will Northwestern have to face the aforementioned Big Ten superstars, but they have also scheduled No. 4 UConn, No. 5 Duke, No. 7 Wake Forest, No. 18 Boston College, No. 20 Maine and No. 23 Stanford. Ultimately, the Wildcats have an uphill battle ahead of them, especially given the transition their roster is facing.
Last season, Northwestern graduated an extremely influential senior class. Lucy Waterhouse, Puck Pentenga, Eva van Agt and Charlotte Vaziri all exited in the program after impressive careers in the purple and white. Vaziri and Waterhouse were both crucial defensive forces: the former was a consistent starter and the steady hand who kept the back line afloat, “Steve,” as her teammates called her, also managed to tally two goals last season. Waterhouse, meanwhile, was a dependable defensive weapon who appeared in all 19 games as a senior, mainly off the bench.
Van Agt was another leader on the team and one of Northwestern’s greatest offensive threats. The Dutch star finished her senior season with six goals and six assists. She started all 19 games at midfield and was honored as a second-team All-Big Ten member.
Pentenga, however, was easily the greatest loss the team faced as arguably the best player in Northwestern history. As a team captain her senior year, she led the team in goals, assists and points with 11, 13 and 35, respectively. Almost every offensive play went through her in one way or another, playing a central role that dated back to her second season with the program.
The immensely talented and creative Dutch attacker started every game from her sophomore year onward and was a unanimous All-Big Ten member and an All-American her senior season. Her talent and presence on the field is almost irreplaceable, and the loss has left a major offensive gap that the Wildcats must cope with this year.
Another potential loss that is still up in the air is starting goalkeeper Annie Kalfas. The rising redshirt senior is currently not listed on Northwestern’s roster. Last season, she started 15 games, posted a 1.74 goals-against average and finished the season with three shutouts. In the event that she does not return, Florien Marcussen, who started just three games last season, will likely take her place. Losing Kalfas, possibly just to graduation as she had already completed four years at Northwestern academically, would be significant.
Northwestern is facing a variety of challenges entering 2019. The demanding schedule paired with the loss of dominant players will serve as a tough combination for the Wildcats, and with the season just around the corner, new leadership will have to step up.
All eyes, therefore, are on senior defensemen Kirsten Mansfield. She started all 19 games last year and finished with 4 goals and 13 assists from her role out of the back and as the setup member of the penalty corner unit. As the second leading point scorer behind Pentenga, Mansfield will have big shoes to fill and will play an influential role on both offense and defense.
The top two returning goal scorers this season, junior Lakin Barry and sophomore Maren Seidel, will both step into a larger role in 2019 as well. Finishing with six goals apiece, the two midfielders/forwards had significant shining moments of their own last season. Barry scored Northwestern’s only goal against top competition Maryland. Seidel earned Big Ten offensive player of the week and Big Ten freshman of the week for her efforts against California and Iowa. The Wildcats outscored their opponents 42 to 39 last season, so in order to keep their offensive presence alive Seidel and Barry must step up as offensive and goal-scoring leaders to fill the void that Pentenga left behind.
Finally, Saar de Breij will need to step up in her senior season. The midfielder started and appeared in 18 games as a junior and finished with 4 goals, 3 assists and 11 points. Her career has been marked by game winners and standout plays, proving her potential and foreshadowing her upcoming role in 2019. As one of the most experienced players on the team, de Breij holds much of the responsibility (along with Mansfield) for grooming and preparing the six first-years coming to Evanston this year, some of whom will need to immediately step into a crucial role.
Northwestern will kick off its season with an exhibition at noon today against Iowa. The Wildcats start official non-conference play with a gauntlet of a weekend in Palo Alto (they’ll be there at the same time as the football team!), taking on Stanford, UConn, and Cal in seven days time. They return home to take on Duke in their first home contest on September 6th.