Field Hockey: Defense leads the way for Wildcats on the field


Anneliese Sloves/The Daily Northwestern

Julia Retzky has started in every game for Northwestern this season. The midfielder has two assists in two victories. The No.15 Wildcats begin Big Ten play on home turf this weekend when the No. 14 Hawkeyes and Wolverines travel to Evanston.

Josh Walfish, Reporter

Offense is generally a lot more exciting to talk about than defense.

The statistics are more quantifiable, and it’s the team that scores the most that ends up winning the game. However, the defense is just as important to a squad’s success as the offense.

So it comes as no surprise that the names of sophomore defender Lisa McCarthy and midfielder Charlotte Martin are less well-known than the likes of senior forward Nikki Parsley and midfielder Tara Puffenberger.

“Our defense has been as solid as its been since I’ve been here,” said coach Tracey Fuchs, who took over the team in 2009. “We’re so much more poised, so now when we get the ball on defense, we don’t panic and give it right back to them. We take our time, and we find the seams and we’re right back on the attack.”

Last season, Northwestern gave up 1.35 goals per game in 20 contests overall, but that statistic rose to 2 goals per game in just six conference games.  Teams scored on 14.5 percent of their shots against the Cats, and NU allowed 9.3 shots per game. All of those numbers have gone down this season, with conference play still looming this weekend. In 2013, the Cats have limited teams to .98 goals per 70 minutes, 8.4 shots per game and a 12 percent scoring rate.

At the heart of No. 15 NU’s defensive resurgence has been three underclassmen whose performances have evolved with another year of experience: Martin and McCarthy playing center back and junior Maddy Carpenter in goal. Behind their efforts, the Cats rank fifth in goals against average, and Carpenter is 17th in the nation in save percentage, stopping 34 of the 44 shots she has faced. McCarthy said the year of experience definitely helped the backline become better as a unit.

“After last year we learned from our mistakes,” McCarthy said. “We have a really experienced keeper in the back, which is really good because she keeps talking to us. The maturity since last year is definitely a really big thing.”

Carpenter has already showcased her ability to keep the Cats in the game when they need her to save them. The junior stopped a penalty stroke in the first minute of overtime against California on Sept. 13 to extend the game, which NU eventually won. Her ability to make big saves in crucial moments gives the defense a lot more leeway to be aggressive and join the attack.

“It is always nice to know that no matter the consequences, Maddy’s still back there, and she still can make unbelievable saves and pull them off when you don’t think she can make it,” McCarthy said. “It’s a really nice safety net to have and gives us confidence to play a little more risky and play more of an attacking style of play.”

There are still some areas of the defense that need to be corrected, one of which reared its head in the win over Duke last week. The Cats led 2-0 at halftime, but the Blue Devils scored 42 seconds into the second half and eventually tied the game with 11 minutes and 20 seconds left to play. 

Fuchs said they have worked on remedying those mistakes as NU begins its Big Ten schedule this weekend when No. 14 Iowa and Michigan visit Evanston. She said it will be important for her defense to continue playing as well as it has, especially given how little separates each team in the conference.

“Everybody’s even,” Fuchs said. “We have a lot of depth and a lot of quality players, but we need to show up and really protect our field and just do the simple well.”

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Twitter: @JoshWalfish

A previous version of this article misspelled the name of Julia Retzky in the caption. The Daily regrets the error.