Field Hockey: Crushing the California dream

Bill Carey

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After No. 17 Northwestern’s 3-1 loss to Michigan on Friday, coach Tracey Fuchs was disappointed her team became complacent with a one-goal lead and allowed Michigan to take control of the game.With the Wildcats’ 3-0 victory over California on Tuesday, the team made an important step by refusing to take its foot off the gas.”Today was a big tipping point for us,” Fuchs said. “We were winning 2-0 (at halftime), and if (Cal) scores, it’s anybody’s ballgame. For us to come out and play a strong second half as well, is very, very pleasing.”Going into the intermission with a two-goal lead, the Cats tried a new strategy to help them maintain control of the game.NU (11-4, 0-2 Big Ten) moved forward Chelsea Armstrong, who leads the NCAA in goals scored with 20, to the defensive side of the ball.Before she transferred to NU, Armstrong had been a defender in her native Australia. But she has almost exclusively played offense this season.”She’s really smart tactically and has a lot of speed,” Fuchs said. “Sometimes when we’re winning, we sit back. I didn’t want to sit back today and I knew Chelsea never sits back, so our plan worked. We’re very versatile now. If we need a goal she can play up, and if we need some defense, she can play in the back.”Unlike their quick start against Michigan, the Cats were unable to break through early in the contest, with Cal’s goalie rejecting all six NU attempts in the game’s first 10 minutes.But in the 24th minute, NU senior forward Courtney Plaster-Strange blasted home a loose ball from in front of the net, giving the Cats their first goal of the contest and an early lead.NU scored again before the half when redshirt senior midfielder Jill Putnam connected on a pass from Elizabeth Dobbs.The Cats jumped out of the gate early in the second half, as Dobbs scored a goal of her own on a pass from Armstrong.Goalie Katie Lynch turned away all four Cal attempts as the Cats recorded their third shutout of the year.”Keeping the shutout was very important for us,” senior defender Stacy Uchida said. “That’s huge for us, playing 70 full minutes and not letting down.”NU’s three goals increased the team’s season total to 60. With six regular season games still on the schedule, the Cats are within striking distance of the school record of 69, set in 1982.Armstrong was held without a goal for the second time in three games as she failed to find the back of the net on any of her eight attempts Tuesday. But as of Monday, the sophomore still led the nation in scoring by one goal. Armstrong’s 51 points this season are already the second-best single-season performance in school history, placing her behind only Lisa Griswold’s 64 points in 1983.As NU heads back into Big Ten play on Friday, the team is confident it is ready to break through and grab its first conference win of the year.”Everything’s really coming together,” Plaster-Strange said. “Our hard work really paid off today, and you could see that on the scoreboard and on the field. More than anything, we’re just really playing well together.”