The Wildcats came just short of being crowned back-to-back national championships last season. Bente Baekers, one of the nation’s top scorers, fired one away to tie the game at one with just two minutes left. Thirty-nine seconds later, Erin Matson, who was named the North Carolina head coach that following January, scored to deliver the Tar Heels a 2-1 victory and title.
Heading into the 2023 season, Tracey Fuchs graduates core offensive and defensive players in Baekers, Ana Medina Garcia and backs Shannon Daley and Kayla Blas. Baekers does have a sixth year of eligibility due to an injury that sidelined her in 2018 but has not been reported to come back. Yet, even without the superstar who had the second-most goals in the country, Northwestern field hockey has the makings to be a contender.
While the pitch may look a little different this year, the goal is comfortably being protected by a familiar face.
In complete unbiasedness, it doesn’t actually get better than Annabel Skubisz. She enters her senior season, having started the previous two. This experience isn’t just notable because Skubisz is a veteran with a considerable amount of playing time, it’s notable because both those seasons cumulated in a championship appearance.
Last season, Skubisz totaled 111 saves — the seventh-most in the country— and five shutouts. She allowed four goals to Penn State and three to the University of Pennsylvania but across the other 23, the Texan never allowed more than two.
Skubisz won’t have a totally new defensive line in front of her with Alia Marshall returning for a fifth year.
Marshall has been a key member for the ‘Cats throughout her entire tenure, even making 20 starts in just her first year. Also getting reps on the midfield, Marshall has tallied a few goals with two last year and four in 2021. She also is an incredibly effective passer, garnering 13 assists last year for the second most on the team. Her presence will certainly be felt on both sides of the field.
Lauren Hunter and Maja Zivojnovic can be expected to step up this season. As a junior, Hunter should claim a starting position. She played in all 25 games as a sophomore and in 23 as a freshman. In 18 games last season, Hunter played at least 20 minutes, including 55 minutes in the title game. Zivojnovic started the first 11 games as a true freshman but suffered a season-ending injury. Given how strongly she started out playing for the ‘Cats, she is likely to be a regular as a sophomore.
Greta Hinke is another back who could total a lot of playing time this season and become a starter. She saw the field in all 25 games as a freshman, though faced limited minutes toward the end of the year.
Losing someone as dominant as Baekers is going to lead to a bit of a void. It’s only natural, considering she is only the second player in Northwestern history and fifth in Big Ten history to have at least 80 career goals. Yet, the return of Peyton Halsey for a fifth year is promising for the offense — which often didn’t start until late in games last season. The captain had the second-most goals and points on the team with 16 and 30.
Fuchs also returns Lauren Wadas and Maddie Zimmer, who had six and two goals, respectively, in their junior seasons. While these may not be high tallies, the two have the potential to become more frequent scorers without Baekers and Blas. Between Halsey, Wadas and Zimmer, the offense will be led by veterans.
Juniors Lane Herbert and Regan Cornelius and senior Chloe Relford could have breakout seasons. They all appeared in every game last year, and Herbert, who played only 666 minutes — Relford had 854 and Cornelius played 732— contributed the most offensive production out of the three with four goals and 13 points.
Other players to watch include senior Katie Jones and freshman Olivia Bent Cole. Jones has played over 20 games in each of her last two seasons, and Cole already has an impressive resume heading into collegiate field hockey. The MAX Field Hockey National Player of the Year has played in the FIH Pro League with the US Women’s National Team and is just one of four Wildcats on this year's team — the others are Wadas, Zimmer and Marshall.
Northwestern may be without some staple players, but the ‘Cats have veterans anchoring the offense and defense and plenty of players capable of stepping up with impressive seasons. The standard for field hockey has always been high, and this year is no different.