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Field Hockey: Fuchs cracks 200 wins, while the defense is destructive

The ‘Cats’ weekend trip to Maine was about as good as they could hope for.

Ever since the season opener against Louisville, Northwestern field hockey has taken its show on the road. After a stop in College Park, Md. for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, the Wildcats headed to Vermont a few days later. Then this weekend, they traveled all the way up to Maine for a two-step against Maine and UMass.

And my goodness, the Wildcats proved to be quite adept in their dancing shoes. When the dust cleared, the team was returning to Evanston with a 2-0 weekend and a +6 scoring margin. The defense hasn't allowed a single goal since Sept. 3, and the offense has scored multiple goals in every game since their overtime victory on Sept. 1.

Whether or not a wildcat could beat a black bear in a fight is potentially an interesting argument. Whether or not the Northwestern Wildcats could beat the Maine Black Bears in field hockey was decided quickly. Northwestern opened the game hot, outshooting Maine 5-0 in the first quarter and 8-1 in the second. By the time the game finally wrapped up, the shot margin stood at an astounding 26-5, with 18 and two coming on goal. The Wildcats also routinely threatened the Maine goal from set plays, garnering 11 penalty corners to the Black Bears’ four.

Despite the offensive domination, it took a while for Northwestern to get on the scoreboard. Maine goalkeeper Mallory Drayer put on an exhibition, saving 15 shots over the course of the game. Six of those saves came in the first 25 minutes, locking the game in a scoreless tie. However, after the sixth save, Drayer was left out of position, and the Wildcats quickly took advantage. First-year Ilse Tromp took the loose ball and fired it into the back of the net for the first goal of her Northwestern career.

Tromp’s goal lifted the lid, and Northwestern took advantage in the second half. After three more saves by Drayer in the third quarter, Lane Herbert, who had four goals last season, beat Drayer with a grounder of a shot to double the lead. About 20 minutes later, with time winding down in the game, Olivia Bent-Cole sliced through the Maine defense with ease, forced Drayer to commit and fired a shot right past her for the final goal of the game. It was the first year’s second score of the season, and it moved her into second on the team in goals, a spot she currently shares with sophomore Maja Zivojnovic.

The game was also the 200th win for head coach Tracey Fuchs. Fuchs was a three-time All-American and won the 1987 national championship while at UConn and went on to play in 268 international matches, more than any other player in American field hockey history. After 12 years as an assistant at Michigan (a run that saw six NCAA tournaments, three Big Ten titles and the 2001 national championship), Fuchs was hired to lead Northwestern in 2009.

The turnaround was immediate. In her debut season, Fuchs led the ‘Cats to their first winning record since 1995, snapping a 14-year drought. After two more winning seasons, Fuchs led the 2012 squad to a 16-4 record, the most successful season for the program since 1989. The next year, the Wildcats won the Big Ten for the first time since 1994. Over the next few years, Northwestern remained competitive, making the NCAA tournament in 2014 and 2017.

After making the 2019 and 2020 tournaments, Northwestern finally broke through in 2021. Led by Bente Baekers and Maddie Zimmer, the Wildcats allowed just one goal over the entire NCAA tournament en route to the program’s first national title. Last season, the team returned to the NCAA title game, only to fall to North Carolina and field hockey phenom (and current Tar Heel head coach) Erin Matson.

Fuchs reached 200 wins in her 300th game at the school, moving her all-time record to 200-100. She has suffered just one losing season while at the school, and that was a 9-10 campaign in 2018. She has also made seven NCAA tournaments, tying the legendary Nancy Stevens for most appearances by a Northwestern head coach. The only question: after a 3-0 win for number 200, what would Fuchs do for victory 201?

As it turned out, another 3-0 win would do nicely. The Wildcats extended their shutout streak to 15 quarters, and the victory over UMass marked the team’s fourth shutout in their last five games. The Wildcats once again dominated offensively, outshooting the Minutewomen 19-5. The penalty corner battle was a lot closer, but Northwestern was able to convert one of their six, while UMass was stonewalled in their five attempts.

The Wildcats once again opened the scoring in the second quarter, after earning a penalty with less than a minute to play in the first half. Team captain Peyton Halsey went left and easily converted for her third goal of the year. Less than three game minutes later, Northwestern would double the lead behind Zivojnovic, who converted a penalty corner. And for the cherry on top in the fourth quarter, Halsey got another penalty stroke. This time, she went right, and the Wildcats departed Maine with their second consecutive 3-0 victory.

Since the season-opening loss to Louisville, Northwestern has been on a tear. The Wildcats have outscored their five opponents by a score of 12-2, and the only team they’ve allowed any goals to is current No. 20 Duke. The offense has been led by some new faces, too, providing lots of hope for the seasons after this one. After graduate student Halsey, the top five in scoring include first years Bent-Cole and Tromp, as well as Zivojnovic, a sophomore.

Annabel Skubisz and the defense have also been brilliant. Skubisz has already earned four shutouts this year, and her career high for a season is five. Her save percentage of 86.4% is also by far a career-best, bettering last year’s mark by nearly 10 percentage points. Her goals allowed mark currently sits at 0.49, a career low by a mile and a top-five mark in the country.

This Wildcats squad is a team built on ferocity on both offense and defense. There is a reason Northwestern currently has 108 shots on the year, while all Northwestern opponents have combined for 40. The squad will have a chance to continue showcasing that ability to dominate at home this week. Big Ten play opens against Indiana on Friday, and then the Wildcats will welcome Penn to Lakeside Field on Sunday. If everything breaks right, Fuchs will head into the last full week of September with her 203rd win.