Field Hockey: Wildcats prep for titanic clash with Hawkeyes

With+No.+11+Northwestern+facing+No.+7+Iowa+on+Sunday%2C+the+Cats+will+have+their+hands+full.+%E2%80%9CIt%E2%80%99s+going+to+be+a+fast-paced+game%2C%E2%80%9D+junior+Caroline+Troncelliti+%28pictured%29+said.+

Sean Su/Daily Senior Staffer

With No. 11 Northwestern facing No. 7 Iowa on Sunday, the Cats will have their hands full. “It’s going to be a fast-paced game,” junior Caroline Troncelliti (pictured) said.

Mike Marut, Reporter

No. 11 Northwestern (8-3, 3-0 Big Ten) and No. 7 Iowa (7-2, 2-0) have a long-standing tradition of epic battles to the finish.

As the only two conference teams left unbeaten, the Wildcats and Hawkeyes go head-to-head Sunday to fight for the title of best Big Ten team thus far. Last season, the teams needed more than 70 minutes to finish the game. NU made a heroic comeback behind the goals of then-freshman Dominique Masters and classmate Isabel Flens. This year, the Cats do not want to use more than 70 minutes for a win.

“We’re trying to shut down Natalie Cafone,” coach Tracey Fuchs said. “She’s going to get the ball. She’s going to make her runs, but if we can always know where she is on the field and have two people around her, that’s going to help. We need to take care of what we need to do. We need to take care of the ball, and we need to execute on both sides of corners. In the end, it’s an even matchup, so whoever executes on Sunday is going to be the winner.”

Last year, the then-sophomore Cafone scored two of the Hawkeyes’ three goals on the day. This year she leads the team in every statistic category: 14 goals, 3 game-winners, four assists, 45 shots and 31 shots on goal. Stopping the junior will be no easy feat.

“They have some players to watch out for, Natalie Cafone (specifically),” junior Kelley Stump said. “She’s definitely a big offensive threat to us. We’ve handled her all right in the past, but Iowa is a big rival for us. Last year was quite the game.”

Iowa has outscored their opponents 32-13. The Cats have outscored opponents 33-15. Both teams have had more than 150 shots this season, and because Iowa has had two fewer games, they’ve had more offensive opportunities per game and more goals per game. Juniors Lisa McCarthy and Kelsey Gradwohl, leaders of the defense, as well as senior goalkeeper Maddy Carpenter, will have their hands full over the weekend.

“They have a lot of speed up front and in the backfield,” junior midfielder Caroline Troncelliti said. “They’re really good passers through the midfield and use their speed on the outside.”

To combat the speed of the Hawkeyes, the Cats have some speed of their own.

“It’s going to be a fast-paced game,” Troncelliti said. “The ball moves faster than the players, so we’re going to have to be good at passing, tackling and working together as a whole.”

Teamwork is a strength of NU, as it led the Cats to a victory over then-No. 2 Maryland two weeks ago. No one player has scored double digit goals, and the scoring has been distributed among eight different players.

“Battling Maryland and improving from that game will be a big help going into Sunday,” Fuchs said. “In the end, we need to do the basics well. We need to stop the ball, receive the ball. We really just need to play our game and start on the right foot.”

On Sunday, the game will come down to the wire. Their past two meetings have gone into overtime and been decided by 1 goal. Expect Sunday’s battle to be one for the ages as two Big Ten titans fight for the title of No. 1 in the conference.

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