ANN ARBOR, Mich. — It took 40 years, but Northwestern field hockey is finally national champions.
The No. 7 Wildcats (18-5) defeated the No. 9 Liberty Flames (20-3) in the NCAA tournament championship game on Sunday afternoon, 2-0, to secure the first national title for the program, the ninth in school history and first since 2012.
Liberty came out of the gates aggressively on offense and earned its first penalty corner just a minute into the game. Northwestern had a corner attempt of its own just a few minutes later, but neither team could convert.
Toward the end of the first, Liberty continued to control possession and had a prime scoring opportunity with back-to-back corners. However, Northwestern defender Kayla Blas recorded a defensive save — her first of the season — to prevent a Liberty goal.
The score remained tied at zero after one with the Flames leading 5-2 in shots, 3-0 in shots on goal and 3-1 in corners.
The second quarter was corner mania, as seven penalty corners were awarded in the 15-minute frame — five of which belonged to Northwestern.
Three minutes into the quarter, Bente Baekers found her way into the circle and took a shot on goal, which Clara Roth tried to deflect in, but a penalty on Liberty set up a stroke attempt for NU for the second game in a row. While Baekers’ shot was dead on, Liberty’s goalie Azul Iritxity Irigoyen made the save of the year, blocking the shot with her foot as she was in mid-air. Baekers’ second consecutive stroke miss marks the only two she has missed in her career.
Northwestern had five more corner attempts throughout the quarter but was unable to convert despite barely missing wide on a few attempts. The Wildcats kept the ball in their offensive half for more of the period than they had in the first.
The score remained 0-0 at the half with Northwestern leading 12-9 in shots, 6-3 in shots on goal and 6-5 in corners. However, neither of the nation’s top two offenses could find the back of the net.
With nine minutes left in the third quarter, Northwestern finally got on the board on its seventh penalty corner and the only one all quarter. Alia Marshall inserted to Maren Seidel at the top of the circle who took the hit, which was tipped in by Marshall on the post.
A few minutes later NU extended its lead with 6.3 seconds remaining in the third. Maddie Zimmer’s shot hit off a Liberty defender and found its way into the goal to give the Wildcats a two-goal advantage.
With seven minutes to play, Liberty pulled its goalie while down two but was unable to score with the player advantage, securing the 2-0 victory for the Wildcats.
Sunday’s win grants head coach Tracey Fuchs her third national title in her career (two as a coach and one as a player), and she did it on her former team’s turf. It is also the first championship for every player on the roster.