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Field Hockey: Northwestern fends off Maryland to advance to National Championship

Did someone say back-to-back championship appearances?

In typical Northwestern Field Hockey fashion, the ‘Cats are headed back to the NCAA Championship game.

Both teams were scoreless until the fourth quarter when Bente Baekers notched a goal, her 24th of the season, off an Alia Marshall penalty corner.

With mere minutes remaining, Maryland chose to pull its goalie in an attempt to make a late-game comeback with 11 field players rather than 10 and a goalie.

With an empty net, Chloe Relford put the ‘Cats up 2-0 for her third goal of the season.

In a wild final few minutes of the game, the Terps were able to find one goal in the back of the net. They had two more chances, but thanks to Annabel Skubisz, the ‘Cats defense was strong enough to fend them off. She has now tallied over 100 saves on the season, the first Northwestern goalkeeper to do so since 2016.

Second-seeded Northwestern now sits at 20-3 on the year, marking its highest win total in a season since they went 20-2 in 1985.

Now, the foe that many of the NU faithful saw coming stands ahead: No. 1 North Carolina (still too soon and familiar to the 2022 lacrosse Final Four, anyone?). It is undefeated, and took care of Penn State 3-0 prior to Northwestern’s game yesterday.

Erin Matson scored two goals for the Tar Heels, pushing her to the top of the leaderboard in NCAA tournament career goals and points. She now has 27 goals and 10 assists on the season.

While the ‘Cats have not faced UNC this season, they are somewhat familiar with them, having derailed them on their quest to repeat as four-time champions last season. Both programs feature all-star staffs and players, which surely will make for a tough but good matchup on Sunday.

Through games on Nov. 9, they averaged a scoring margin of 3 more goals than their opponents. The last time the Tar Heels were truly tested was in the ACC Championship game, where they beat the University of Virginia Cavaliers 3-2.

Northwestern has an undeniably strong back line, led by Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Kayla Blas and goalkeeper Skubisz. It might be tough to break through the high-scoring offense of UNC, but if there’s one thing these ‘Cats are, it’s that they are up to the challenge, as they have shown all season.

The 2022 NCAA Field Hockey Championship game will take place on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. CT, televised on ESPNU.