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Behind the first-year phenoms that drove Northwestern field hockey to the national title game

Olivia Bent-Cole and Ilse Tromp have supercharged the ‘Cats.

Ryan Kuttler/Northwestern Athletics

The Wildcats have done it again. Beating Duke 2-1 on Friday afternoon, they are headed to their third straight championship game.

But NU’s squad couldn’t have reached such great heights without first-years Olivia Bent-Cole and Ilse Tromp.

“They have come in and almost been like sophomores or juniors,” head coach Tracey Fuchs said following Northwestern’s semifinal win. “Those guys definitely add to such an experienced team.”

Bent-Cole entered the season as one of the nation’s most exciting newcomers. As a senior in high school, both USA TODAY and MAX Field Hockey named her National Player of the Year. She led Camden Catholic with an unbelievable 38 goals and 16 assists as they captured the school’s second state championship in almost 40 years.

It didn’t take long for Bent-Cole to make an impact for the ‘Cats. She caged her first collegiate goal in NU’s third game of the season against Duke, cutting into a 2-0 deficit that fueled a comeback victory, 3-2. Factoring in her performance for the U-21 National Team in April, OBC’s immediate contributions didn’t come as a surprise.

“[With] Liv, we knew what we were getting,” Fuchs said. “She has a ton of speed along with our midfield.”

Bent-Cole has 10 goals on the season, good for third behind graduate student Peyton Halsey (12) and Tromp (11). She came out firing from the first game, evidenced in her 36 shots on goal (also third, behind Lauren Wadas and Halsey). OBC’s athleticism has fundamentally altered NU’s midfield with her blinding speed that flashes multiple times each game.

Meanwhile, Tromp has left her mark on the ‘Cats after entering the season as a substitute. When sophomore back Maja Zivojnovic went down against Michigan in October, Tromp came in and never let her foot off the gas. She scored 11 goals in just 19 starts and was the team’s most efficient scorer with a shooting percentage of .224.

Born in the Netherlands, Tromp was a captain for the HC Rotterdam U-18 team for two years and won four Dutch Championships. She also competed alongside Zivojnovic in high school, which made her new role as a starter that much more impactful.

“Ilse’s just been such a bright spot to, one, have a really nice drag flick,” Fuchs said. “But, two, to replace Maja halfway through the season, and [she] seamlessly stepped up.”

Tromp hasn’t shied away from big moments in her first year with the ‘Cats. In the first round of the NCAA Tournament against Miami (OH), she fired her famous drag flick off a penalty corner, contributing to a commanding 3-0 win.

The first-year back added two more goals in the next round against Louisville, fueling NU’s trip to the Final Four. Not to be outdone, Tromp caged another corner early in the second quarter for the Wildcats’ first goal against Duke.

On Sunday afternoon, NU will face the Tar Heels in the national championship for a second straight year. Although Bent-Cole and Tromp weren’t part of last year’s championship loss in Storrs, CT, last November, they have been pivotal in setting the stage for a rematch.

It’s no small feat to enter such a perennially competitive program and immediately make your mark on a team full of accomplished veterans. But that’s what Bent-Cole and Tromp have done their whole lives — they’ve injected pure energy and talent into each team they’ve become part of. Adding a title to their resumes in Year One would make their young careers that much more special.