Field Hockey: Wildcats put winning streak on the line against top-10 foes

Josh Walfish, Reporter

Northwestern has not missed a step after losing its all-time leading scorer.

The departure of Chelsea Armstrong forced the Wildcats to find other sources of scoring, but it did not stop the 13th-ranked team in the country from racing out to a 7-1 start. After dropping its opener to Providence in overtime, NU won seven straight games, outscoring the opposition 20-4 in total.

Coach Tracey Fuchs said it is impossible to replace a player of Armstrong’s caliber, but she highlighted how the team does not rely on one person to score and has a lot of different players able to step up and put the ball in the cage. Senior Nikki Parsley and sophomore Caroline Troncelliti are leading the team with 5 goals. Senior Tara Puffenberger follows with 3.

“We’re really balanced in our attack and in our defense,” Fuchs said. “Because of that, we’re able not to just lean on one person, and in the end we’re probably going to be stronger.”

The Cats have dominated almost every game they’ve played this season, including their one loss. In the opener against Providence on Aug. 30, NU outshot the Friars 18-8 and earned 13 corners, but the Cats could not convert on any of them and fell 2-1.

Puffenberger admitted the first game was difficult for the team. Armstrong’s central role in NU’s offensive was missing, and the shots weren’t going in. However, the midfielder said she had confidence in her teammates that once the goals started to come, they were going to find the back of the net.

“It’s hard because Chelsea was a big part of our scoring routine that when we weren’t scoring, we had to refocus our attention,” Puffenberger said. “We have a good enough team, and once we start scoring, they’re just going to start coming.”

As good as NU’s offense has been, the backline has been even better through eight games. Fuchs said sophomore defender Lisa McCarthy has All-American potential, but the real star may be junior Maddy Carpenter. The goalie has 4 shutouts in 8 starts with a 0.73 goals against average, the second-best mark in the country. With her .806 save percentage, Carpenter is seventh nationally, despite playing about 100 minutes more than any of the other goalies in the top 10.

“Maddy’s been really solid,” Fuchs said. “When you have players in the backfield that are so solid, it lets us play a more attacking style, which we really like to do here.”

The Cats are in for their biggest challenge of the season this weekend when they travel to the East Coast to take on No. 9 Duke on Friday and No. 4 Virginia on Sunday. The matchup with the Cavaliers on Sunday will be a homecoming of sorts for Puffenberger, who played her first two years at Virginia before transferring to NU for the 2012 season.

The weekend’s matches also stand as the final nonconference trials before Big Ten play begins next weekend with Iowa and Michigan coming to Evanston.

“This will be a really good test for us to see where we stand amongst the best in the country, and that’s only going to prepare us for the Big Ten,” Fuchs said.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @JoshWalfish