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Field Hockey: NCAA Tournament Preview

The time has come to see if Northwestern can cap off what has been a great season to this point.

Despite suffering what could have been a season-ending upset loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament, Northwestern is playing in the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four seasons. Tracey Fuchs’ squad currently sits at no. 5 in the National Field Hockey Coaches poll — and deservedly so. The team is chock full of talent, such as Big Ten Freshman of the Year Maddie Zimmer, and All Big-Ten selections Bente Baekers and Kayla Blas. The ‘Cats have some impressive performances on their resume as of late, with notable wins over No. 4 Iowa and No. 8 Rutgers.

Season Recap

Although field hockey is normally a fall sport, the team began its season in late February due to COVID cancelations earlier in the academic year. The ‘Cats first contests were played at a neutral site in Virginia Beach, where they faced off against Big Ten foes Michigan State, Maryland and Penn State. While the ‘Cats have maintained a perfect 6-0 record at home this season, they have not been as hot away from Lakeside field, as demonstrated by the team’s 5-5 record in road matches. While the offense is putting points up on the board, Northwestern’s defense is what truly makes this team notable. Led by Senior Christen Conley and first-year goalkeeper Anabel Skubisz, the team has allowed just 1.25 goals and 5 corners per game on average. The NU backfield has been instrumental in every match, especially given that 13 of the team’s 16 games were decided by just one goal.

Big Ten Tournament

Last weekend, the ‘Cats made a statement against a tough Rutgers team to advance to the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament. Lakin Barry got the Wildcats on the board quickly with a tip into the goal after just six minutes of play. After only taking one shot in the first 15 minutes of play, the Scarlet Knights tied it up early in the second quarter. However, the reliable offensive threat Bente Baekers scored the eventual game-winner off of a breakaway early in the second half, extending her goal-scoring streak to five consecutive games.

NU took on Ohio State in the semifinals of the tournament, a team they had swept in two overtime matches earlier this season. Both teams struggled to find the back of the net, as the game remained scoreless heading into halftime. With under a minute to play in the third quarter, Ana Medina Garcia dribbled the ball into the circle and connected with Baekers, who took a quick shot from the left side to put the ‘Cats up 1-0. However, just minutes later, OSU tied it up. As neither team was able to capitalize on its offensive momentum, the contest went into overtime, and a mere two minutes into that extra period, Ohio State scored the game-winner off of a redirected hit, sending the Buckeyes to the Big Ten Championship match.

NCAA Opponent: Delaware

Since the ‘Cats earned one of the three at-large bids to the 12-team tournament, their path to the championship starts with a “play-in” game against Delaware. The Blue Hens are coming off of a 3-2 overtime victory in the Colonial Athletic Association championship game over James Madison. The game-winner was scored by midfielder Femke Strien, the Hens’ active career leader in points (73), goals (28), assists (17) and games played (56). Delaware’s reputation is that of an offensive powerhouse, scoring an average of 2.67 goals per contest.

The ‘Cats and Blue Hens will take to the field at 2 pm CT today in Chapel Hill, with the winner facing Big Ten rival Iowa in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.