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Field Hockey: Final Four Preview

A record-breaking three Big Ten teams will travel to Storrs, Conn. to have a chance for an NCAA title.

@NUFHCats / Twitter

After a wild first two rounds, No. 2 Northwestern field hockey will travel to Storrs, Conn. for the Final Four, beginning on Friday. The Wildcats will face off against No. 3 Maryland for the third time this season at 2 p.m. CT. Here’s an overview of the previous matchups between the ‘Cats and the Terps this season.

First meeting — No. 2 Northwestern vs. No. 4 Maryland

On Oct. 2, Maryland bested Northwestern in overtime at Lakeside Field. Bente Baekers notched an early goal, but Terp Dani Van Rootselaar notched one less than two minutes later to tie the score. Deadlocked at 1-1, the game headed to OT, where Van Rootselaar sealed the game with a golden goal.

Van Rootselaar is certainly a name to watch. She has 22 goals on the season, only one behind Baekers. Baekers’ 23 goals are tied for most in the Big Ten with Penn State’s Sophia Gladieux, who will also make her way to Connecticut with the Nittany Lions. More to come on that later.

Second meeting — No. 3-seeded Northwestern vs. No-2 seeded Maryland (Big Ten Tournament Semifinals)

Three weeks to the day on Friday was the last time these two Big Ten powerhouses squared off. Alia Marshall scored a goal in the fourth minute, followed by Peyton Halsey’s penalty stroke goal 20 minutes later. Maryland was able to score a late goal in the third but couldn’t equalize. Northwestern then advanced to the Big Ten championship, but fell to Michigan — which was upset in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by Albany.

Now, the teams are 1-1 against each other on the season. While Maryland likely wants revenge for the last meeting in the Big Ten Tournament, the ‘Cats have been on fire as of late. Of course, the stakes couldn’t be higher than in the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament, so this should make for an exciting game.

On the other side of the bracket is No. 1 UNC, who is undefeated and therefore the ACC regular season and tournament champion. The Tar Heels will meet Penn State, which is unseeded in the tournament but has been ranked in the top 10 all season. Gladieux leads the way for the Nittany Lions with 23 goals, one of which was scored against the ‘Cats.

No. 1 North Carolina is one of the most dominant programs in all of field hockey — the Heels were en route to their fourth consecutive national championship before none other than the Wildcats upset them last season in the first round.

UNC is led by Erin Matson, who has 25 goals on the season. She put up a hat trick against St. Joseph’s in the quarterfinals, when the team donning Carolina Blue beat the Hawks 5-2. Freshman Ryleigh Heck is second in scoring with 17 goals.

At noon CT on Friday, the Tar Heels will face off against the Nittany Lions, who the ‘Cats encountered this season back on Sep. 30. In yet another game that went to overtime, Northwestern took care of business 5-4 thanks to a Halsey hat trick at Lakeside Field.

The winners of each semifinal matchup will advance to the NCAA championship on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. CT. You’re not going to want to miss any of the action this weekend in the Final Four, especially from these Cardiac ‘Cats. All games will be streamed on ESPN+/ESPNU.