For the first time in a long time, Northwestern fans can venture to Martin Stadium this season and watch defending national champions on the shores of Lake Michigan. That being said, the road to Storrs, Conn. will not be easy for Tracey Fuchs’ squad.
The ‘Cats begin their season with a trip out to the East Coast for their first four matchups before returning to Evanston for a national championship rematch against Liberty in their home opener. With Fuchs entering her 14th season as head coach, Northwestern is expected to not just succeed but be among the best teams in the nation in 2022.
Northwestern was dominant last year— after all, they were the national champs. Led by team points leader Bente Baekers, who was ranked third nationally with 45 points, the Wildcats had one of the best offenses in the country. The ‘Cats closely trailed Liberty in most scoring categories — points, goals and scoring average — but on the field, Northwestern came out on top, shutting out the Flames 2-0 for the title.
NU finished the season 18-5 and 5-3 in conference play, but it should be noted that all five losses came in one-goal games and three were double-overtime losses. The only grievance fans could have would be that Northwestern did not claim the Big Ten title after losing in heartbreaking fashion to Michigan in a double-overtime shootout. Fortunately, that loss was enough to keep the ‘Cats from losing again. They allowed only one goal in the NCAA Tournament and emerged victorious after an exciting and hard-fought season.
From last year’s championship roster, Northwestern returns all of its starters except for Maddie Bacskai and Clara Roth, a pair of graduate transfers from Princeton, but Bacskai and Roth will leave a void on both sides of the pitch.
Bacskai was a pivotal presence to the defense, as the back started 22 of 23 games for the ‘Cats and played more minutes than anyone. Her 978 minutes are unparalleled with a 43-minute gap over Annabel Skubisz who had the second-most.
The loss of Roth and also senior Maren Seidel, who finished second and third in points last season, means Northwestern’s offensive production may suffer. Roth had 34 points and 13 goals, and Seidel had 28 points and 11 goals. Players like Baekers and Maddie Zimmer will need to step up as leaders while the rest of the offense will need to step up and support them in return.
Leading the team in goals and points for three straight seasons, Baekers has been the backbone of the Northwestern offense. The fifth-year’s return allows NU another season with one of the best players it’s ever seen, and even with the losses of Roth and Seidel, Baekers being on the field creates hope for the offense. With three straight All-American honors, Baekers is surely looking to compile another remarkable season.
Zimmer has made an immediate impact in her first two years. As a freshman, she received All-American and Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors and continued her success as a sophomore, receiving All-American honors once again. Last season, Zimmer finished fourth in points and goals for the ‘Cats with 21 and nine respectively, and she was named the NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player for her stellar postseason. This season could be an opportunity for Zimmer to further breakout and lead offensively alongside Baekers.
By staying in Evanston for a fifth year, Blas brings a veteran presence that will serve both the defense and offense well. Aside from being able to help fill the void left by Bacskai, Blas has a knack for feeding her teammates. She led the ‘Cats in assists last season and racked up the team's second and fourth-highest totals in her sophomore and junior years respectively. In each of the past three seasons, the three-time All-Big Ten honoree has ranked in the top three for minutes among the team, clearly playing a part in NU’s recent success.
Ana Medina Garcia
In her senior season with Northwestern, the international from Spain has the opportunity to step up offensively. Last season, Garcia posted 3 goals and 11 points, and the year before she was second on the team in goals and points. Roth and Seidel’s absence leaves a gap to be filled behind Baekers, but both Zimmer and Garcia have the potential to become even bigger offensive weapons.
The upcoming season will feature games against six of last year’s top ten teams. Among those are three Big Ten rivals that the Wildcats fell to last year: Rutgers, Michigan and Penn State. But Northwestern has the pieces for another dominant run, as long as players live up to their potential.
If Baekers continues to be the masterful player that she is and teammates like Zimmer and Garcia can find the back of the cage more frequently, NU can field another top offense. Fuchs also finds a huge asset in goalie Annabel Skubisz. She was outstanding for the ‘Cats in her sophomore season, finishing second in the conference with 68 saves. Skubisz will also hopefully be aided by sophomore Lauren Hunter and graduate student Shannon Daley on defense. Hunter appeared in every game last season and led all first-years in minutes, and Shannon Daley is a veteran who has played in every game over the past three seasons.
Northwestern has established itself as the team to beat in not just a stacked Big Ten but the nation. Returning eight experienced starters, who are all upperclassmen, the postseason should be both the goal and the expectation.