I wouldn’t call it a slow start. In fact, I wouldn’t dwell on the season-opening loss to No. 9 Louisville at all. If anything, outshooting a team 21-to-3 with 10 shots on goal is nothing short of impressive. On another impressive note: this isn’t a seasoned-veteran type of team with the headlining names that propelled Northwestern to two straight championship appearances playing; rather, young talent is now helping run the Wildcats’ game — which means dominating opponents.
Tracey Fuchs no longer has Bente Baekers to demoralize every defense she plays and top the leaderboards. Her loss is a huge one, but this year’s team is getting contributions from all over, and pretty evenly at that, which hasn’t necessarily been the case in recent seasons. Northwestern has graduate students Alia Marshall and Peyton Halsey, plus senior Lauren Wadas to bring established talent and skill — but just as much a part of this team and its five-game winning streak is a trio of new faces: first-years Olivia Bent-Cole and Ilse Tromp and sophomore Maja Zivojnovic, who was sidelined for the majority of last season with an injury.
The starting roster looks different this season, with underclassmen and players who are familiar but didn’t see a lot of minutes in the past. While it's bizarre to have outshot the Cardinals so extremely — in fact, Louisville only had one shot on goal— this is all the start of something new. Aside from not hitting the backboards, the absolute domination of possession shows that this something new is promising. Of the plethora of Wildcat shots, five came from Zivojnovic, three came from Trompe and junior Lane Herbert each, two came from Bent-Cole, and junior Regan Cornelius, Halsey and Marshall each attributed one.
This game may go in the record books as a loss, but it represents a roster with multiple players who can be factors. The ‘Cats’ aren’t centering their game around one or two scorers or relying just on veterans to move the ball. The young talent on the field, spearheaded by two first-years, represents players that will grow beloved by a fanbase.
That’s not a knock on any previous play, but it signals how the Wildcats will find success this year: with incoming players already prepared to execute on this level, and others ready to step up. And, the next five games attest to that.
Against No. 17 Boston College, Halsey knocked in the overtime winner but was assisted by Trompe, who was playing just her second-ever collegiate game. Bent-Cole, Trompe and Marshall collected the most shots.
In a 3-0 victory over No. 20 Duke, Bent-Cole was the first to score after the Blue Devils put up two goals. Zivojnovic had two shots on goal, which is a respectable tally.
The trend continued. Against Vermont and UMass, Halsey and Zivojnovic pitched in goals. Then it was Trompe, scoring the first of what will likely be very many in her career. Bent-Cole and Relford matched the feat against Maine.
After this six-game stretch, nine different players have tallied over five shots, with Zivojnovic and Bent-Cole leading the pack with 18 and 15, respectively. They also both have two goals — tied for second on the team behind Halsey’s four.
There is, of course, a lot for Northwestern to still get under control. The ‘Cats are having no problem mustering shots and getting the rebounds, but they can be much more efficient in finishing. With the exception of Duke, where the Blue Devils outshot the Wildcats 17-7, Northwestern outshot Louisville, Boston College, Vermont, Maine and UMass in a landslide: 21-to-3, 13-to-8, 22-to-2, 26-to-5 and 19-to-5. Those are numbers representative of what can be an outstanding offense. With Annabel Skubisz in goal, who was already named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week this season, Fuchs has a lethal combination.
NU is currently ranked No. 3 in the nation, behind Iowa and North Carolina. Aside from Louisville, which sits at fourth, the Wildcats have yet to face the toughest games of their schedules.
This team has the making of something special, considering how rare it is to see young players like Bent-Cole and Tromp instantly shine, and how Zivojnovic playing as if she suited up every minute last season — not to mention having U.S. National Team members in Wadas and Marshall and a reigning captain in Halsey to lead the team. The ‘Cats will be put to the test in a stretch before the Big Ten Tournament, where over the span of six games, they’ll face No. 8 Michigan, No. 1 Iowa, No. 12 Penn State, No. 10 Rutgers and No. 5 Maryland.
This team is going through a transformation as we see names like Bent-Cole, Tromp, Zivojnovic, Lane and Cornelius become common to us. But as collegiate programs go, players don’t last forever; they come in cycles, and this cycle is certainly worth believing in.