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Three takeaways from Northwestern field hockey’s wins over Michigan State and #15 Michigan

The defense has been borderline dominant.

Northwestern Athletics

Is there anything the No. 2 ranked Wildcats can’t do? The most recent outings for the team provided a pair of wins from Michigan teams at Lakeside Field. Against the visitors from the Great Lakes, Northwestern dominated to extend its win streak to 11 games, marking the longest streak for the program since 1990. Here are three takeaways from those games, in which a Wildcat team that looked like a title contender smothered its midwestern visitors:

The defense has been downright debilitating

Annabel Skubisz has an argument for being named the best goalkeeper in the country. The senior has a goals-against average of .58, which is the third-best mark in the country. Her save percentage is 80.6%, bettered by just five players in the entire nation. However, Skubisz is a distant 72nd in saves per game at just 2.50. So what’s the explanation for the disparity in these numbers?

It’s simple: opposing offenses just haven’t had the chance to put up good shots. Against Michigan State, Skubisz faced just six shots. Against Michigan, that number dipped to four. Skubisz was effectively a fan with the best seat in the house — a seat that’s enabled her to witness Northwestern’s 11-0 scoring margin over the last three games. The one shot she did save over the weekend (a third-quarter attack by Michigan State), she saved with ease.

Of course, if Skubisz isn’t having to hold opponents off the scoreboard, someone else must be. In fact, it’s multiple someones. Players like Maja Zivojnovic, Ilse Tromp, Katie Jones and Lauren Hunter have made it nearly impossible for Wildcat opponents to get a clean shot on goal. Sadly, there is no real stat for defensive play on, so it’s a little difficult to truly tell the story of how good the defense has been. Perhaps, this will do.

Michigan State and Michigan combined to put up 10 shots on Northwestern over the weekend. One of those was close enough to a scoring threat to be defined as “on goal”. The defense has been talented enough that offenses haven’t been able to even look at the goal for more than a few seconds, and even if they were able to, one of the best goalies in the nation is waiting for them.

The offense has been abundant

Tip the cap to Michigan State’s Cecily Charles. Charles currently holds the Big Ten lead for saves in a game, with 19 on Sept. 29th after picking up 14 on the 17th against Ohio State (no other Big Ten goalkeeper has more than nine saves in a game this year). And yet, Northwestern won that game 6-0, the team’s largest margin of victory this year.

That’s because the Wildcats unleashed an unholy 36 shots on Charles, the most shots any Big Ten team has taken in a single game this year. That was the team’s highest output since Oct. 10, 2021, when they sent Ball State back to Indiana with a 6-1 loss after unleashing 47 shots on the Redbirds. But surely, you’re thinking, the offense ran out of gas a little bit in that game. The 1-0 scoreline against Michigan would suggest that.

You’d be wrong. Northwestern put up 25 shots on the Wolverines, tied for the ninth-highest output of any Big Ten team this season. Once again, a great goalkeeping effort (this time from Michigan’s Caylie McMahon, who had eight saves) prevented the scoreline from looking even worse. The Wildcats finally broke through on their 25th and final shot of the game with just over five minutes to play.

Looking at the stats, it’s almost difficult to fathom how prolific Northwestern’s offense has been. The team has put up 255 shots, an average of 21.25 per game. In four of their five last contests, the Wildcats have put up 25 or more shots, meaning that they have put up four of the 12 most aggressive offensive showings in the entirety of the Big Ten...all since September 17! One of the keys to this success is someone recapturing her form from 2022.

Lauren Wadas is all the way back

The senior midfielder made the NFHCA’s All-West First Team last season after scoring six goals (third-best on the team) and chipping in three assists. However, Wadas dealt with a slow start to her season, going pointless in the team’s first six matches. Even after recovering slightly, she was still sitting at just three assists on the year and had yet to score. That was, of course, until she erupted en route to a weekend that led to her receiving honors for Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week, the second time she has received the honor.

What did Wadas do to receive the honor? Well, against Michigan State, she tied for the team lead in shots with six but was still unable to break her goalless streak. She did, however, help break a goalless streak held by someone else. First-year Ilse Tromp hadn’t managed to put forth a goal since September 8. That streak was snapped after Wadas found her on a penalty corner in the waning minutes of the Michigan State game.

Against Michigan, though, no one was scoring. As mentioned earlier, the Wildcats were putting forth an offensive output that no Big Ten team has really come close to this season, but it wasn’t showing on the scoreboard. The Wildcats, who outshot Michigan 25-4 over the course of the game, were desperately searching for a breakthrough to stay unbeaten in conference play and earn their fifth-ranked win. It was time for the senior to step up.

She did. After Zivojnovic was blocked, Wadas found the rebound and fired the ball home for the lead, a goal that proved to be the decisive margin. The finish was the eighth game-winning goal of Wadas’ legendary career and pushed the winning streak to 11 games. Also, a special shoutout to Olivia Bent-Cole, who scored her sixth goal of the season (third on the team) and is currently locked in a riveting three-woman race for Big Ten Freshman of the Year. The senior and the freshman will face their biggest test of the year, along with the rest of the Wildcats, when Northwestern travels to Iowa City to take on the top-ranked Hawkeyes this Friday.