Field Hockey: Wildcats hit road to take on 2 top-10 opponents this weekend


Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Sophia Miller moves the ball upfield. The senior defender will lead the No. 14 Wildcats into their weekend battles with No. 3 Penn State and No. 10 Maryland.

Joseph Wilkinson, Assistant Sports Editor

Field Hockey

No. 14 Northwestern is fresh off a crucial nonconference victory over No. 15 Louisville, but the schedule gets even harder this weekend as the Wildcats take on two highly ranked Big Ten opponents –– No. 3 Penn State and No. 10 Maryland.

Last season, both teams came to Evanston with similarly high rankings and left with losses, and those victories have instilled some confidence in the Cats as they head into the weekend.

“Last year we had the two of them in the same weekend at home, and we managed to get those two wins under our belt,” sophomore goaltender Annie Kalfas said. “We gotta just know that we can do it if we really work for it.”

The Cats (6-3, 1-0 Big Ten) opened the season with a rough patch, but they have since ripped off a four-game winning streak including Tuesday’s signature victory over the Cardinals.

Over the course of the streak, 11 different players have scored a goal for NU, but one constant in the offense has been junior midfielder Puck Pentenga. As the hub of the offense, she’s assisted on seven goals in the past four games, five more than the second-most generous player.

“Her and Eva van Agt have really picked it up and brought their game to another level,” coach Tracey Fuchs said. “And if those two are playing well, we’ll be in good shape.”

NU will need its junior midfield duo to be on top of their games this weekend if it hopes to turn around its results against the best of the best.

Of the current top-3 teams in the country, the Cats have already faced No. 1 UConn and No. 2 Duke, losing both matches by a combined score of 8-0. That number is skewed, however, by a 7-0 loss to the Huskies. NU was significantly more competitive in its 1-0 loss to Duke.

Still, the Nittany Lions (7-1, 1-0) present their own unique challenges. The Penn State offense runs through junior forward Moira Putsch, who has scored six goals and tallied seven assists in only eight games on the year.

Putsch has a strong supporting cast as well, led by junior midfielder Aurelia Meijer who has put in four goals to go along with three assists of her own. Miller is also second on the team behind Putsch in shots on goal. The Cats, however, are more focused on their own preparation than on the Nittany Lions’ attack.

“We’re just trying to do what we do best,” sophomore defender Kirsten Mansfield said. “We just need to get some sleep, focus on our nutrition and take care of ourselves coming into this week.”

While Penn State features an explosive offense that averages 3.5 goals per game, the Terrapins are a defense-first team that allows only eight shots per game. For comparison, the Cats have averaged almost 16 shots per game in their nine contests so far.

With NU looking to win a conference title that has eluded it for three years, these two games could go a long way toward returning the Cats to the top.

“We have our sights set on competing for a Big Ten championship, and the only way to do that is through Maryland and Penn State,” Fuchs said. “We’re going to be ready to go, and we’re looking forward to having a great weekend.”

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