After a thorough 4-1 victory in Friday’s opening-round matchup against Delaware allowed them to reach the final eight for just the second time in 27 years, Northwestern field hockey (12-6) could not fend off No. 4 Iowa for a third consecutive time, losing 3-1 on Sunday to end a remarkable season. The Hawkeyes, who earned a bye in the first round despite having lost twice to their second-round opponent, used rested legs to their advantage and stopped Northwestern’s run in its tracks.
The Wildcats controlled the Blue Hens from start to finish on Friday, as Peyton Halsey scored off of a Delaware giveaway just three minutes in to the action. Additionally, NU did not concede a single penalty corner until they had taken a 4-0 lead in the fourth quarter. Bente Baekers scored twice on penalty corners of Northwestern’s own in the second half, sandwiched around a goal in the run of play from Big Ten Freshman of the Year Maddie Zimmer.
Delaware got on the board midway through the final period, but it was too little, too late for the Blue Hens. Six saves, including a couple of beauties, from first year Annabel Skubisz helped pave the way for the ‘Cats’ rematch with one of their most significant Big Ten rivals.
Ciara Smith scored early to get the Hawkeyes off on the right foot in Sunday’s quarterfinal, but as they had all year, Northwestern hit back, with Baekers scoring off yet another corner for her fourth goal against Iowa during this season alone. With the score — the 43rd of the redshirt sophomore’s young career — she moved into seventh place all-time in Northwestern’s history for career scoring despite still having two remaining years of eligibility.
No player besides Baekers had scored for the Wildcats against Iowa all season, and unfortunately, that trend continued. Just four minutes later, in the middle of the second period, the Hawkeyes’ own leading goal-scorer struck, and Maddy Murphy’s tally would prove to be the difference in the end. From there, the Hawkeye defense suffocated the ‘Cats, with Lokke Stribos adding one more score for good measure at the beginning of the third period.
Northwestern mustered nine shots on goal, but Iowa’s Grace McGuire — rarely tested in the cage during the regular season — was up to the challenge, and the Wildcats played nearly eight of the final 21 minutes down a player, as their aggression and desperation to try and equalize caught up to them in the form of multiple cards.
The loss could mark the end of the road for a hardworking group of seniors, including captain, defensive stalwart and All-Big Ten Tournament team honoree Christen Conley, offensive linchpins Lakin Barry and Mackenzie Keegan, key contributor Kaitlin Wood, goalkeeper Florien Marcussen and forward Sabrina Solomen. Though, like all other fall sport athletes, each will have the option to return for an extra year of eligibility.
Regardless, the future is bright for Tracey Fuchs’ squad. The Wildcats boast back-to-back Big Ten Freshman of the Year honorees in Zimmer and Baekers, and a bevy of young talent surrounds them at every position on the field. The ‘Cats might have seen Iowa end their very successful season this weekend, but this group will undoubtedly be back with a vengeance in the fall.