NU sees positives in offensive freeze

Andrew Rudnik

Northwestern field hockey coach Marisa Didio didn’t sulk after her squad dropped a 5-0 decision at No. 6 Michigan State on Saturday. Instead, she thought of the improvement her squad has made since losing two straight shutouts to Maryland and James Madison at the Terrapin Invitational two weeks ago.

“Down in Maryland, we were in an adverse environment against a top level squad — we didn’t handle that well,” Didio said. “The biggest stride we’ve made is how we respond in a battle … this is the best we’ve played against that level of opponent.”

Team captain Stacy Spenser has noticed a similar change.

“We’re a totally different team in terms of the level of our play, even though the result didn’t display that,” she said.

On Saturday, Michigan State forward Bridget Cooper scored the first goal of the contest 13 minutes in, and Thresa Pusateri added another score six minutes later.

Down 2-0 at the half, “we were still in that game,” Didio said. “It could have been 1-0 them, 1-1, or 1-0 us.”

But the third goal of the match, a tally from Maureen Halstead that Didio said “shouldn’t have gone in,” changed the complexion of the game.

“When that third goal goes in, the atmosphere is totally different,” she said. “We start scrambling.”

Michigan State (5-3, 1-0 Big Ten) got goals from Cynthia Martin and Sophie Rosmalen to round out the scoring.

Didio was disappointed with the way the goalkeeping tandem of junior Kendra Mesa and sophomore Katie Hall played on Saturday.

“(With) the talents that they have, they were not executing,” Didio said. “They have a job to do, and they didn’t do it to their capacity.

“Two of those first three goals shouldn’t have gone in, and they went in.”

Mesa played 45 minutes, allowing four goals and turning away four Spartans shots. Hall allowed one goal and made one save in her 19 minutes.

Spenser said that NU (1-6, 0-1) remained competitive with the Spartans.

“The score didn’t reflect the flow of the game,” she said. “We never lost effort. After those first three goals, we never felt defeated.”

Despite the goals allowed by the Cats, Didio was pleased with the defensive performance.

“Our red zone defense was very good — the shots (Michigan State) got were not so great,” she said. “The defense did a job that was at a totally accelerated level from how they played down at Maryland.”

After Saturday’s game, NU has been shut out in its last four contests and outscored 14-0 in that span. The Cats managed four shots in East Lansing, Mich., compared to 15 for the Spartans.

“I wouldn’t say we’re struggling,” Spenser said of the Cats’ attack. “Our lineup isn’t completely set. Some of our set plays we’re still trying to iron out. There are some things we can polish up.”

Spenser said the Cats’ offense has yet to click because of an influx of inexperienced players and an injury to Nicole Smith, last year’s leading scorer. Smith suffered a concussion during NU’s trip to Maryland.

“She’s definitely one of our key offensive threats in the circle,” Spenser said. She also noted that juniors Juli Fomenko and Diane Provencher are “doing a great job” replacing Smith as the table-setters on penalty corners.

Smith, currently second on the Cats with two goals, has continued to show symptoms of the concussion. Didio has no set timetable for her return.

While Smith heals, freshman Candice Cooper, saddled with ankle injuries during the preseason, got high marks in her first collegiate start on Saturday.

“Candice is going to be a force at Northwestern,” Didio said. “She’s shown the ability to start and make an impact. She’s a competitor.”

NU hosts both Ohio State and Stanford this weekend, and Didio enters the practice week proud of the development her team has shown.

“That’s what I demand of them, and that piece was there against Michigan State,” she said. “It was not there against James Madison, and that’s what I’m proud of.”