clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Field Hockey: The national champs are back, and so is Bente Baekers

Tracey Fuchs’ quest to defend the title begins on the east coast.

Image courtesy of Northwestern Athletics.

The reigning champs have not missed a beat. Northwestern field hockey opened the season in Amherst, Mass. with two straight wins, both of which confirmed the Wildcat offense is as dominant as ever with graduate student Bente Baekers at the helm. Living up to its number one preseason ranking, Northwestern’s first two victories came over ranked opponents — No. 22 Maine and No. 25 UMass.

Sunday, August 28: No. 22 Maine

The scoring didn’t start until the third quarter, but once Baekers found the back of the cage on a penalty corner with help from Kayla Blas and Alia Marshall, Northwestern piled on the goals against Maine. Over the span of a mere nine minutes, Baekers scored three goals. Again, that’s three goals in nine minutes. As if the field hockey world already didn’t know, Baekers reaffirmed her reputation as an unstoppable talent. Lane Herbert grabbed the assist on her second goal and Lauren Wadas joined Herbert on assisting the third. Also getting in on the excitement of a busy third quarter was Peyton Halsey who fired a shot to put Northwestern up 4-0.

With her first goal of the season and 141st career point, Baekers moved into second place over Sannie Van Dijk in Northwestern’s all-time points leaderboard, but that and her eighth career hat trick were not all the fifth-year forward accomplished in the season opener. Assisted by Wadas, Baekers scored again in the fourth quarter, making for her first-ever four-goal game.

The Wildcats’ 5-1 victory could have and perhaps should have been much worse for the Bears, considering how uneven offensive play was. While Northwestern had 25 shots and 11 shots on goal, Maine had six shots and only a single shot on goal.

Monday, August 29: No. 25 UMass

Maybe the energy from the second-half victory over Maine carried over to the next day or maybe NU didn’t want another late-scoring game because, within just five minutes, Baekers scored for an early lead over UMass.

The Minutewomen were able to tack on a point to even the score at the close of the first quarter. It may have seemed that it would be a close game but that was the only goal the Wildcats surrendered in their 4-1 win. NU quickly gained back the lead when Herbert, assisted by Halsey and Blas, scored in the 21st minute. None other than the untamable Baekers scored again in the third quarter, and Halsey also found the back of the cage in the fourth quarter.

For the second time in as many days, the Northwestern offense could not be stopped. The Wildcats had 32 shots and 20 shots on goal, whereas the Minutewomen recorded seven shots with only three on the cage. Maine and UMass both were simply outplayed by the best team in the nation.

Looking Ahead

The first two games have certainly been the Baekers show but they have been just as encouraging and pivotal for many others. Sophomore Herbert scored her first-ever collegiate goal, and she earned her first and second career assists. Halsey scored in both games, matching her goal total from last season. Blas already has four assists on the year, and her three assists in the UMass game were a personal best. If the victories over Maine and UMass can predict anything, it’s that Tracey Fuchs’ team is filled with skilled players who are ready to step up and compete. Northwestern does not want to just be the defending champion, it wants to be this year’s champion, too.

Before the ‘Cats return back to Evanston for their home opener and national championship rematch with No. 6 Liberty, Northwestern will stay in Massachusetts and venture to Chestnut Hill for two top-20 matches against No. 18 Duke on Friday (2 P.M. CT on ESPN+) and No. 14 Boston College on Sunday (3 P.M. CT on ACC Network).