Field Hockey: Wildcats shut out Louisville to earn massive nonconference win


(Noah Fricks-Alof/Daily Senior Staffer)

Puck Pentenga goes for the ball. The junior midfielder assisted on both goals in the Wildcats’ win over Louisville.

Joseph Wilkinson, Assistant Sports Editor

Field Hockey

Last year, Northwestern traveled south and took a 2-0 loss at Louisville in early October. Later, the Cardinals received a coveted NCAA Tournament bid while the Wildcats were left at home.

This year, No. 14 NU (6-3, 1-0 Big Ten) hosted No. 15 Louisville (4-4) at Lakeside Field, and turned in a dominant performance to secure a 2-0 shutout victory. Though the tournament is still months away, coach Tracey Fuchs recognizes the importance of the nonconference victory.

“Louisville’s a great team. They’ve been in the tournament the last four years and we’ve really been a little bit unlucky,” she said. “Today I thought we played a solid game from pretty much start to finish, and I think our experience really set the tone today.”

Sophomore defender Kirsten Mansfield scored both NU goals on penalty corners, with both assists coming from junior midfielder Puck Pentenga.

Those goals came on two of the Cats’ 12 corners on the day. It was a much more efficient performance than their previous match against Ohio State, where NU managed only a single goal on 18 corner attempts.

“We were just focusing in practice on executing our corners,” Mansfield said. “We were all just trying to get in our positions, get ready, get rebounds and luckily we were able to put it in the goal today.”

Though the Cats were in control for much of the match, the start was much shakier. Louisville managed four shots and three corners in the first seven minutes before NU finally got its first shot off.

In the remaining 63 minutes, the visitors managed only seven more shots and a single additional corner. Sophomore goalkeeper Annie Kalfas said the key was a tactical change and communication.

“They had a forward that they played really far back into their midfield, and so we had to have our center defense and our defensive screen switch her off a lot,” Kalfas said. “Early on, we were just figuring out how we were going to play it and didn’t really start on our front foot.”

With Louisville’s scheme nailed down, Kalfas, Mansfield and senior defender Sophia Miller anchored the defense and kept a clean sheet in the back.

The biggest improvement from last October’s loss, however, was the offense. Last year in Kentucky, the Cats managed only four shots, all in the first half. This time around, Pentenga alone attempted eight shots, and the relentless NU attack constantly kept the Cardinals on their heels.

“She’s the glue,” Fuchs said of Pentenga. “She’s an emotional leader. She plays hard. She’s a great defender, great attacker, and she’s really, really strong on the ball. She keeps possession well and she can blast the ball on corners.”

Pentenga was the center of the attack, but received plenty of help on the offensive end.

With junior midfielder Eva van Agt and freshman midfielder Mackenzie Keegan each managing two of their own shots on goal, the dynamic attack from the Cats kept Louisville’s defense off-balance throughout.

“I’m really proud of the whole team,” Fuchs said. “The best part about this team is we don’t have a superstar or two. Instead, we have 22 young women who really come together and everybody contributes every day.”

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