Field Hockey: Northwestern returns to Michigan to face tough Big Ten foes

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Daily file photo by Sean Su

Junior midfielder Kelsey Gradwohl passes the ball away from a defender in a game last month. No. 9 Northwestern will face No. 14 Michigan and No. 22 Michigan State this weekend.

Claire Hansen, Reporter

No. 9 Northwestern (10-4, 4-0 Big Ten) is gearing up for another big weekend in Michigan where it will face Big Ten opponents No. 14 Michigan (9-5, 4-1) and Michigan State (7-6, 2-3). Last weekend, the Wildcats dominated Central Michigan 4-0 after being narrowly defeated 2-1 by No. 3 Stanford in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

This weekend, they hope to leave the state undefeated.

“We are expecting some huge games and we’re really excited,” sophomore Isabel Flens said.

The Cats will play Michigan at 6 p.m. Friday at Ocker Field in Ann Arbor. Newly renovated Ocker Field was the site of the NU-Stanford matchup last weekend. The Cats’ experience on the new turf, coach Tracy Fuchs commented, will prove to be hugely valuable.

“We’ve had two practices and a game, and we’ll have another two practices,” Fuchs said. “I think it’s going to be very beneficial.”

Ocker Field will also be the home of the Big Ten Championships, which take place in early November.

“It’s still really bouncy and not as fast as it will be,” Flens said. “It was really good to get out there already and play a game and see what it does for us.”

Regardless of the turf conditions, the Cats are expecting a fast, intense match against Michigan.

“They press pretty hard, they have a lot of energy and a lot of speed,” junior Lisa McCarthy said. “They’re relentless. They will play for a full 70 minutes.”

A big focus for NU this weekend will be penalty corners. Execution of corners has been a point of emphasis for the team all year. This weekend, Fuchs said, the team aims to raise their penalty corner execution over twenty percent.

Not only will the Cats need to be able to convert on their corners, they will have to stop Michigan’s attempts in the circle as well.

“They have some great penalty corners, maybe the best I’ve seen all year,” McCarthy said. “We are really going to need to limit the number of penalties we have in the circle.”

In the midfield, the team aims to penetrate down the field using the sidelines.

“They’re really strong down the middle,” Fuchs said. “If we are going to have success, we are going to need attack down the sides.”

Despite working a bit on their press, the Cats don’t plan to make any major changes in their game.

“We’re just making little adjustments,” Fuchs said. “Communicating on defense, really playing possession hockey and being poised when we come up with the ball.”

This offensive poise will also be critical Sunday morning when NU faces Michigan State in East Lansing, Michigan. The Cats beat the Spartans 2-1 on the road last year and expect another close game this time.

“Michigan State is a team that you can never count out,” McCarthy said. “They’ve had some losses, but they’ve also come up with some wins that, on paper, they maybe shouldn’t have had.”

Flens echoed her teammate’s sentiment.

“It’s always a tough game against Michigan State,” Flens said. “They’re good all over the field.”

The Cats, however, are as excited and confident as ever.

“If we play Northwestern field hockey,” McCarthy said. “it’ll be a good outcome.”

Mike Marut contributed reporting.

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Twitter: @Claire_Hansen_