Field Hockey: Wildcats look to finish strong in Big Ten

Alex Putterman, Reporter

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To say the Wildcats are heating up would be inaccurate. They’ve simply never cooled down.

No. 9 Northwestern (12-2, 2-1 Big Ten) is riding high entering the denouement of its schedule after winning 11 of its last 12 games — including four straight victories. With no games against ranked teams until the Big Ten Tournament, the Cats’ mantra “one game at a time” plants their focus on Friday’s tilt against Indiana at Lakeside Field.

Last weekend, NU took down No. 15 Michigan 4-1 in Ann Arbor before returning home and dismantling Kent State 8-0.

Junior Tara Puffenberger earned Big Ten Player of the Week for her contributions to the victories, which included a first-half hat trick against Kent State. Puffenberger credited the honor to her fellow Cats.

“It’s all a testament to our team and how well we’ve been doing,” she said. “And I couldn’t do it without the help of my teammates.”

The triumph over Michigan, which coach Tracey Fuchs called “a huge match,” provided a showcase of NU’s youth, with a different freshman scoring each of the team’s four goals. One of those freshman goal-scorers was forward Lena Phillips, who, after netting her first career goal against the Wolverines, added two more against Kent State to earn Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors.

“I’m just really pumped to be getting minutes,” Phillips said. “To be scoring is just great, but I’m just happy to be in there and to be contributing to our team.”

After enjoying such significant contribution from freshmen last week, Fuchs doesn’t plan to cease relying on rookies against Indiana.

“Our freshmen have been huge,” she said. “They’re not freshmen anymore. We’re as good as we are because of our freshmen.”

As for the Hoosiers (7-5, 0-3), Fuchs cautions the team to take nothing for granted.

“Any time we play a Big Ten team, they’re going to give us a really good game,” she said. “We just need to stay in the present and play every game. And although Indiana has not had a good Big Ten so far, they’ve just gotten two of their players back from injury.”

Puffenberger, however, isn’t worried.

“Obviously I think we expect to win,” she said through a smile. “It’s a Big Ten match, so it’s really important that we do come out with the win in order to be in contention and get a good seed for the Big Ten tournament.”

In order to achieve that long-term success, Fuchs said the Cats, veterans and freshmen alike, will “take each day as it comes.”