Head Coach: Tracey Fuchs
2020 Record: 12-6
Goals for: 41
Goals against: 25
Despite playing their last game on May 2, Northwestern’s field hockey team has already technically already begun their 2021 campaign after scrimmaging Big Ten Rival Iowa this past Saturday.
Coincidentally, that final game of what was technically the 2020 season (despite being played in 2021) was also against the Hawkeyes, who ended their season in the NCAA Quarterfinals. While their loss marked a disappointing finish, the ‘Cats had a strong COVID-shortened season, finishing 12-6 and 5-3 in Big Ten play. Head Coach Tracey Fuchs’ squad had beaten Iowa, who was ranked second in the nation at the time, in their two conference matchups earlier in the season.
This year, the ‘Cats return most of their key players, highlighted by All-Americans Bente Baekers, Maddie Zimmer and Kayla Blas. Additionally, they welcomed two graduate transfers from Princeton University, Maddie Bacskai and Clara Roth, in the offseason. However, they’ve also lost previous team assist-leader, Christen Conley, and several other seniors since their quarterfinals defeat.
After only playing conference opponents in their spring season, they open up the season with their first non-conference game against UConn on Friday, August 27, when NU will also open Lakeside Field again to fans. In the so-called 2020 season, the ‘Cats earned their third tournament berth in the last four seasons, and this year, they hope to have an even deeper postseason run.
Struggles in 2020
If there were any issues for the Wildcats during the 2020 season, they weren’t incredibly evident, as the team was one of the best in the nation from the start of the shortened campaign to its finish. That said, one notable number sticks out: while the ‘Cats were an undefeated 6-0 at home, they went 1-3 on the road. The disparity between home and road records could be a matter of strength of schedule — the ‘Cats played three of their four road games against ranked opponents, as opposed to just two of their six home games against teams that were ranked — it’s something to keep an eye on as NU travels more frequently this season.
Reasons for Optimism in 2021
For starters, the ‘Cats return most of their core players from the 2020 season, including Baekers, who has been their leading scorer in both of her two seasons in Evanston. Also returning for Northwestern in ‘21 are midfielder Zimmer, who took home the Big Ten’s Freshman of the Year Award after the 2020 season, and goalie Annabel Skubisz, who put up solid numbers during her first season a few months ago.
The Wildcats not only have returned much of their existing talent, but brought in two stellar transfers with experience making deep runs in the NCAA Tournament. Bacskai and Roth were two central components of teams at Princeton that went to the Final Four and National Championship in 2018 and 2019, respectively. Their additions will undoubtedly make an impact on an already strong Northwestern roster.
Players to Watch
Simply put, Baekers is one of the best field hockey players to come through Northwestern in recent memory. The Dutch junior led the Big Ten in shots, goals and points in her freshman year, earning her First Team All-Big Ten honors then, and came back with another memorable performance earlier this year, leading the team and conference once again in goals (15) and points (35). If Baekers is stellar once again — which is the expectation — the ‘Cats could very well be in for another eventful postseason.
While Baekers may have lost her leading feeder in Christen Conley, she’s gained a fellow stud of a striker who will help divert defenses’ attention. Roth led the elite Princeton teams of 2018 and 2019 in goals and points, and will immediately add an additional dimension that hasn’t already been seen from the Northwestern offense that already led the Big Ten in goals scored during the 2020 season.