The Big Ten Tournament ended in a fashion not unfamiliar to second-seeded Northwestern’s field hockey team: upset by an opponent it had previously dominated.
For two years straight, the Wildcats have fallen to a squad they were clearly better than. Last season, NU lost in the Big Ten Tournament to Indiana, a unit the Cats had beaten 4-0 weeks before. This year it ended much the same way. NU lost to Ohio State 3-2 after shutting the team out 5-0 on Nov. 1.
“It wasn’t our best performance,” coach Tracey Fuchs said. “You have to give credit to Ohio State though, they played well and made good on their opportunities.”
The first half of the game looked like the usual Cats had not shown up yet. They weren’t able to control possession like they did last week. One component of that was the return of Arielle Cowie for the Buckeyes. Cowie did not play against NU last time due to a red card in the game before.
“She made a huge difference,” Fuchs said. “She generated a lot of attack for them.”
Not only did Cowie produce offensively, but she also seemingly shut down senior midfielder Tara Puffenberger for much of the game. Puffenberger only had one shot during the contest.
“It was frustrating (that she covered me all game),” Puffenberger said. “Our team has a lot of depth though, so usually when one player covers one of ours all game, it’s more of a disadvantage for them. Because of our depth, people step up, and we had people step up in the end.”
For most of the first half, the Cats and the Buckeyes were at a stalemate. Normally, NU dominates before the break, especially in last week’s rout against Ohio State. The Buckeyes only had two shots and one penalty corner in the opening period.
“The first half was not our finest hockey,” sophomore defender Lisa McCarthy said. “Our basic skills weren’t up to perfection like last game. Whether we started with a few poor passes, it caused a lack in confidence to start.”
At halftime, the whole mood and energy of the Cats changed. They came out of the break much more aggressive with the ball and looked like the team that had been playing together all season.
“Getting that first goal really helped,” Puffenberger said. “The difference maker was people started believing we were going to come back. Before, it was just hoping we would.”
Fuchs also pumped up the Cats.
“At halftime, Tracey put confidence in us,” McCarthy said. “We talked about continuing with our game plan of doing the simple things well and working on our press because it was being broken down too easily.”
In the second stanza, NU took the reins after getting down 3-0 early. McCarthy scored her goal with 11 minutes left off an assist from senior forward Nikki Parsley. The Cats’ second goal came from freshman midfielder Dominique Masters with six minutes remaining in the game.
With the Big Ten season on the line, it was crunch time. The Cats had a few opportunities in penalty corners as the clock ticked down in the final minutes.
“It was frustrating more than anything,” McCarthy said. “We could’ve turned it around. If we had a few more minutes, we could’ve won.”
The exasperation resonated throughout the team.
“It’s frustrating because looking back on (the game), it’s knowing we were off on our basic skills,” Puffenberger said. “Not every day can be our best day.”
With the first-round defeat, the Cats have slim chances of making the NCAA tournament. The Co-Big Ten regular season champion is on the bubble.
Email: [email protected]m