As it has done for much of the young season, the Northwestern offense came alive in the second half of Sunday’s game against Kent State (2-5-0) to give the Wildcats a 2-1 win, improving their record to 4-3 on the season.
NU, ranked No. 18 in the country by the National Field Hockey Coaches Association poll going into the match, was shut out in the first half, but junior midfielder Candice Cooper jumpstarted the Cats offense seven minutes into the second half when she took a nice feed from freshman forward Megan Sieberg and tied the game at 1-1.
“At halftime, Coach Didio placed a lot of emphasis on capitalizing on offensive opportunities that we didn’t take care of in the first half,” sophomore midfielder Christine Nannicelli said.
With the score still deadlocked at 1-1, Nannicelli took advantage of another opportunity for NU off a penalty corner shot, when she ripped a pass from senior Diane Provencher behind the Kent State goalkeeper. The goal gave the Cats a 2-1 lead with 11:08 remaining in the game, and they never looked back.
While the offense took care of business, NU defenders did their part by shutting out the Golden Flashes in the second half.
The stifling brand of defense that Coach Didio has bred in her players has been a benchmark of past NU teams, and little has changed for this year’s squad. The defense is anchored by the experience of senior defenders Provencher and Suzi Sutton and has been solidified in the net with the addition of freshman goalkeeper Sherri-Anne Nyberg, who has already made some crowd-stirring saves.
Sunday, Nyberg gave up a score early in the first half, but put the clamps on Kent State’s offense from there on out. She finished with seven saves, and ensured the comeback victory when she deflected the potential game-tying shot as time ran out.
Strong second half showings have been another theme for the Cats through the first seven games, as NU has outscored its opponents in the second half 8-5.
“The comebacks are giving us some great experience for the Big Ten season, but we need to start taking it to our opponents from the first whistle and score first,” Nannicelli said.
The game was the final tuneup before Big Ten competition, which opens Friday at home against Michigan.