Field Hockey: ‘Cats are no match for tough teams

Danny Daly

The Wildcats took uneven strides toward beating their first top-20 opponent of the season this past weekend. Northwestern was competitive in a loss to No. 6 Michigan State, keeping the game tight throughout. The Cats were less competitive in their second match of the weekend against Wake Forest.

The Cats (6-9, 0-3 Big Ten) fell 3-1 on Friday to the Spartans (12-1, 3-0) and 8-2 to the No. 3 Demon Deacons (12-2) on Sunday at the Leonard B. Thomas Athletic Complex.

The Michigan State game was similar to NU’s first two conference losses this season. The team faced large deficits in shots on goal (17-3) and penalty corners (12-2) just as it had against Michigan and Iowa.

But senior goalie Emily Kyle, who leads the Big Ten in saves by 30, kept NU close, stopping a season-high 13 shots and allowing only three goals – two on penalty corners and one on a strange play at the end of the first half.

With just over two minutes left in the half, a Michigan State player shot from outside the circle. Kyle let the ball go, figuring it would go out of bounds and the Cats would regain possession. Instead the ball hit off the right goalpost and bounced back into play. The Spartans managed to collect the rebound. Kyle saved the first shot, but the second one from Michigan State’s Chantae Miller found its way into the back of the net.

“I think it was unlucky, and we all realized it was unlucky,” coach Kelly McCollum said.

Rather than going into the half tied at one, NU was facing a 2-1 deficit.

McCollum said she was pleased that her players did not let the goal affect them.

“I would say I didn’t see any change in my team, which was a huge positive,” she said. “That hit in the gut didn’t really make us fall apart. I’ve seen our team respond differently at other times, and I was really proud of how we stuck to our game plan.”

Against the Demon Deacons, the Cats never gave themselves a chance to win.

NU was conceding 2.77 goals per game heading into the weekend. But the usually stout Cats defense allowed 10 shots on goal in the first 11 minutes and trailed 6-0 with 10 minutes to play in the opening half.

Part of the reason why the Cats struggled at the beginning of Sunday’s game was the Demon Deacons play a different style than the Spartans.

“Wake Forest was a more offensive team,” junior forward Elizabeth Dobbs said. “Michigan State liked to build the ball around more before they shot, and Wake Forest was like ‘shoot, shoot, shoot.'”

Both opponents applied a lot of pressure when the Cats had possession in their own defensive half. NU had a hard time moving the ball, failing to register a shot on goal in the first 15 minutes of either game.

The team recognized the need to put together longer offensive attacks early in games.

“We really have to move the ball quickly out of the backfield on our 16-yard hits,” sophomore defender Zoe Almquist said. “We need to get it to the outside early and use our easy possession passes so we can get it up the field.”

Penalty corners were another area of concern in the two games. NU gave up six goals off of corners, including four against Wake Forest in the first half. Meanwhile, the Cats were unable to capitalize on any corners of their own.

McCollum said the team’s intensity was different at the beginning of each game. Whereas they “came out with a vengeance” against Michigan State, the players were more hesitant in the early part of the Wake Forest game.

“We were a couple steps too slow and too hesitant and we gave Wake the speed and space to develop their attack,” she said. “We didn’t work as hard off the ball to get the ball in the first half, and we didn’t work as hard in our layers on defense when the ball would get behind us.”