At this point, it should be very clear that Northwestern is very good. Scratch that. Dominant, unforgiving, a powerhouse.
With 18 straight wins after dropping the season opener, it seems the Wildcats are destined to win their second-ever national title, just two seasons after their first. Here are the teams that could stand in the way.
North Carolina and Northwestern hail from two different conferences and two different parts of the country, but they have become each other’s ultimate foes as of late.
The Wildcats took down the Tar Heels en route to their first championship in 2021, then fell to them with a minute left in the title game the following year. Northwestern has been ranked as the best team in the country for the past four weeks, but it is North Carolina that heads into the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 seed.
A final matchup between these teams would be fueled by the extra motivation to prove who is actually the best. The ACC champs have the best RPI in the country and are ranked 11th in scoring margin and 16th in penalty corners. The Big Ten champs have the second-best RPI, lead D1 field hockey in scoring margin and average the second-most penalty corners per game. Both are relatively on par in goals per game, but for Northwestern to succeed, being able to maximize its penalty corner play will be significant.
The Tar Heels will be riding on lots of movement in the postseason as, arguably the most talked-about team in the nation. They just took down Duke, which will be the No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament, to win their seventh ACC Championship. Notably, all the attention has been on the 23-year-old head coach Erin Matson, who led North Carolina to a 14-3 record in her first season.
If Northwestern makes it to the Final Four, there’s a good chance it will take on Duke.
The Blue Devils will take on American, which isn’t ranked among the top 20 teams. If they advance, it will face either Syracuse or Liberty. Duke easily beat Syracuse in the regular season 4-0, but just narrowly bested Liberty in overtime.
While the ‘Cats significantly lead the Blue Devils in offensive categories, they are a rather unfamiliar opponent. While the teams have not clashed often, NU bested Duke 3-2 earlier this season. Although Duke lost in the ACC Championship to UNC, it lost by just one to its state foe in the season finale.
The Blue Devil have proven they can hang with top-tier teams, and compiling a 16-4 season after going 7-11 gives them the fateful advantage of being the Cinderella team.
The Wildcats will have to watch out for Alaina McVeigh, whose 20 goals are one away from leading the country.
Another possible championship matchup could be Northwestern’s Big Ten counterparts. Both Maryland and Rutgers have been among the top ten all season, and both have put up a fight against the ‘Cats.
The Big Ten Championship was anything but easy. The ‘Cats came out on top 1-0, but it took two overtime periods and 20 corners — 17 of which came from NU alone.
This match drew comparisons to when the Wildcats and Scarlet Knights played each other in the regular season. Rutgers scored in the first quarter, and NU didn’t tie it up until the fourth quarter. It then took two overtimes, once again, a round of shootouts and then an extra shootout before Northwestern won.
Northwestern is evidently the best team in the Big Ten, but these three are very familiar with each other's strengths and weaknesses at this point, so a national title game could go any way.
Northwestern has earned a bye and will host the winner of California and Miami Ohio in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday.