Field Hockey: Wildcats split pair of contests with top-10 opponents

Nikki+Parsley+scored+two+of+Northwestern%E2%80%99s+four+goals+during+its+weekend+road+matches+against+No.+9+Duke+and+No.+4+Virginia.+The+senior+leads+the+Wildcats+with+seven+goals+this+fall%2C+including+the+first+one+of+the+season.

Daily file photo by Gabriel Peal

Nikki Parsley scored two of Northwestern’s four goals during its weekend road matches against No. 9 Duke and No. 4 Virginia. The senior leads the Wildcats with seven goals this fall, including the first one of the season.

Josh Walfish, Reporter

Northwestern proved it can hang with the best teams in the nation over the weekend, even if its winning streak was snapped at eight.

The No. 13 Wildcats faced two top-10 teams and split the contests to improve to 8-2 this season. NU began with a 3-2 win over No. 9 Duke on Friday to claim its eighth consecutive victory but fell to No. 4 Virginia 2-1 on a late goal by Cavaliers’ forward Caleigh Foust.

Even though the Cats did not return to Evanston with a nine-game winning streak, coach Tracey Fuchs said she saw a lot of positive signs for the future.

“It was a good weekend. It would’ve been great if we could have tied it up,” Fuchs said. “It pretty much said we’re fighting to be a top-10 team. They were hard-fought games.”

The Cats jumped all over the Blue Devils from the first whistle Friday, taking a 2-0 lead into halftime while outshooting Duke 11-1 and forcing goalie Lauren Blazing to make five saves in the first half. Senior midfielder Tara Puffenberger opened the scoring by cleaning up a rebound and depositing it into the cage in the first 10 minutes.

About two-thirds of the way through the half, NU earned one of its seven first-half penalty corners and made the Blue Devils pay as senior Nikki Parsley fired home the pass from Puffenberger to double the lead.

However, the two-goal lead did not hold up as Duke crawled back into the game 42 seconds into the second half. The Blue Devils added another score with 11 minutes and 20 seconds left in regulation to even the score. However, sophomore midfielder Caroline Troncelliti snuck a pass from freshman Dominique Masters between Blazing’s pads to take the lead for good.

Sunday’s game had far more back-and-forth action throughout the entire 70-minute contest. The goalies combined to make nine saves in the first half, and there were 17 shots between the two schools.

The Cavaliers struck first with a penalty stroke 12 minutes into the game, but Virginia could not capitalize on any of its seven penalty corners in the first half. The Cats converted on their third penalty corner of the game with Puffenberger and Parsley linking up again on the goal.

NU entered the weekend with only two goals off 83 penalty corners but scored directly twice on 20 chances in the two games. Fuchs said the team’s work on the practice field is finally paying off during games.

“We’re just getting better and better, and we’re starting to execute better,” Fuchs said. “If that part of our game comes along, we’ll be a tough team to beat.”

With Big Ten play looming next week, Fuchs said she is happy with the way her team is performing. There is always room for improvement, she said, but the team has faced enough adversity to be ready for conference play Friday.

“The Big Ten will be tough, and every game will be a battle,” Fuchs said. “We just played two top-10 teams and we’ve played two overtime games, so the good news is we’re battle tested.”

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