Field Hockey: Cats back to .500 after shutting out Iowa

Cole Paxton, Reporter

Field Hockey

Home cooking was exactly what the Wildcats needed Friday as they improved their record in Evanston to 5-1 and grabbed their second win in Big Ten play on the season.

After No. 14 Northwestern (9-4, 2-2 Big Ten) failed to score on 11 penalty corners in last Sunday’s loss to Indiana, corner execution was a major point of emphasis in practice this week.

If Friday afternoon was any indication, it was a good week.

Senior midfielder Caroline Troncelliti scored two goals via penalty corners and sophomore goalkeeper Lindsay von der Luft made four saves en route to earning her third shutout of the season, and the Cats thoroughly defeated No. 18 Iowa (7-5, 1-2) in a 4-0 victory at Lakeside Field.

“Penalty corners are a huge part of the game,” coach Tracey Fuchs said. “For us to execute and score on two of them today, I was really pleased with the effort.”

Despite playing without second-leading scorer and primary penalty shooter Dominique Masters after she suffered an injury this week, NU started strong and took advantage of 10 corners.

The Cats were on the attack from the outset. Junior midfielder Isabel Flens had an opportunity from point-blank just over six minutes in, and NU earned three penalty corners in the first seven minutes. The team would fail to capitalize on these initial chances though.

On their fourth corner, however, the Cats got their reward. Junior midfielder Lauren Bernardi’s shot from distance was saved by Iowa goalkeeper Alexandra Pecora, but the rebound went directly to Troncelliti, who knocked the ball in from close range. The goal, which came at 11:08, was NU’s first via a penalty corner in over 144 minutes of game action.

“We’ve been practicing tipping a lot on corners, and (the ball) ping-ponged around,” Troncelliti said. “We were trying really hard to be aggressive this game, getting everything in front of the cage.”

The Cats had several opportunities to add to their lead in the first half, but could not convert on five additional corners. Freshman midfielder Puck Pentenga, making her first career start in place of Masters, had several good looks at goal, but Pecora stymied each opportunity. The Iowa goalkeepers made six saves in the half.

Six minutes into the second half, Troncelliti doubled NU’s advantage. After senior back Lisa McCarthy’s penalty corner took several deflections, the ball fell to Troncelliti, who made no mistake in finding the goal.

“Caroline was able to get some rebounds and everybody pitched in today on corners,” Fuchs said. “To add some different looks this week, two or three days before we play a great team like Iowa, really paid off today.”

The Cats, though, were not finished scoring. Less than four minutes after Troncelliti’s second, Pentenga got the slightest of touches on senior midfielder Charlotte Martin’s long ball into the circle, moving NU’s advantage to 3-0.

As strong as the Cats were offensively, the defensive performance was just as strong.

“We did a great job of keeping them out of the circle,” Fuchs said. “In particular I thought Charlotte Martin was a vacuum cleaner in the middle. She didn’t let anything get by her today.”

Iowa recorded neither a shot on goal nor a penalty corner in the first half, and the Hawkeyes struggled even to put the ball in dangerous positions. The visitors were significantly more aggressive in the second half, though NU clamped down defensively and kept Iowa off the board despite five penalty corners.

“We did a great job getting everyone back behind the ball,” von der Luft added. “Our work rate was really good today.”

Freshman midfielder Eva van Agt added the final tally for the Cats, knocking in a loose ball in front of the goal with less than four minutes remaining.

NU will resume Big Ten play in two weeks with home games against Michigan and Michigan State. Next Friday, however, the Cats will break from league action to host Stanford.

With the conference slate now halfway done, the Cats hope to emulate their Friday performance.

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