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Field Hockey: Wildcats clinch second straight Final Four berth with two shootout victories

The ‘Cats: cardiac.

Spoiler alert: Northwestern field hockey is going to its second consecutive Final Four, a first in program history. The way the team got there, though, can only be described with one word: cardiac.

On Friday, the ‘Cats met No. 25 Miami (OH) for their first-round matchup. While the first matchup between the two teams this season didn’t have too much action, with Northwestern putting in two unanswered goals before pulling away with a 3-1 victory, this game was different. Although senior Peyton Halsey missed her first penalty stroke of the season in the second quarter, she was granted another one in the third to put the ‘Cats up 1-0.

With just ten minutes remaining, Reese Wearren notched a clutch goal off a penalty corner to save Miami from elimination in regulation. However, the score would remain locked at 1-1 through both 10-minute overtimes, leading to a sudden death shootout.

The Redhawks’ goalkeeper, Isabelle Perese, was outstanding, tallying 11 saves. Annabel Skubisz added five for the Wildcats.

For those who are not familiar (I was not because the Wildcats hadn’t played in an OT shootout since Nov. 4, 2021 in the Big Ten Tournament against Michigan), a shootout operates similarly to a penalty kick round in soccer, where it begins with the best of five shots. Each team selects five players to go one-on-one against the goalie, where they can shoot as close as they want in the allotted eight seconds.

After what would have tied the shootout 3-3, in which case the shootout goes to sudden death (keep tabs on this for later), the Miami goal was waved off after the player used the wrong side of her stick. Northwestern advanced in electric fashion.

In case that wasn’t enough excitement, the No. 3 ranked and No. 2-seeded ‘Cats took on No. 11 Iowa on Sunday. The two Big Ten powerhouse programs met earlier in the season on September 23, where the Hawkeyes upset the then-top ranked Wildcats 2-0.

Iowa got on the board first with a perfectly placed penalty corner in the fourth quarter. Less than four minutes later, Northwestern added one of its own by Bente Baekers in clutch fashion.

When neither team could answer in the remaining 12 minutes of the game, they headed to overtime... And another 10 minutes later: more overtime.

Still locked at 1-1, the Hawkeyes and the Wildcats got ready for a shootout. This time, after being knotted at 3-3, the teams were faced with a sudden death round. Senior Ana Medina Garcia made her attempt, and a phenomenal save by Skubisz eliminated the Hawkeyes.

For the first time ever, Tracey Fuchs and Northwestern field hockey have advanced to back-to-back NCAA Final Fours. The semifinal and championship games will be held in Storrs, Conn., home of UConn (the alma mater of none other than Fuchs) this weekend.

The ‘Cats are slated to meet yet another Big Ten opponent in the postseason in Maryland on Friday at 2 p.m. CT, where they will have another opportunity to defend their national title. If NU surpasses UMD, the Wildcats would meet the winner of North Carolina-Penn State on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. CT.