Field Hockey: Wildcats look to extend winning streak, remain unbeaten at home


Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Kirsten Mansfield looks upfield. The sophomore defender and the Wildcats will face two ranked opponents this weekend.

Joseph Wilkinson, Assistant Sports Editor

Field Hockey

Last weekend, Northwestern cruised to blowout victories over two unranked opponents, but the Wildcats will face stiffer competition when they travel to No. 22 Iowa on Friday and host No. 24 Massachusetts on Sunday.

Ranked challengers are nothing new for No. 9 NU (10-4, 4-1 Big Ten), which has already faced nine current top-25 teams this season.

“This is going to be a great weekend,” coach Tracey Fuchs said. “Iowa’s a great team. We played them in the preseason. It was a great game and went back and forth. We just need to be ready to play, and we will be this weekend.”

The Cats will likely lean on their defense as they look to extend their four-game winning streak.

Over the weekend, NU allowed a single goal in its two matches against Indiana and Ball State, and its opponents managed only five combined shots on goal. The Cats, in comparison, attempted 24 shots on target.

“It was a whole team effort,” sophomore defender Kirsten Mansfield said. “We were just trying to stick to our gameplan and use the outsides, and then, with our press, really force them to go outside, so we could intercept their passes.”

NU ranks 25th in the country in average goals allowed, yielding 1.67 per game, but during its four-game winning streak the team has tightened its defense and conceded only five goals. That 1.2 goals against average mark would rank 10th in the nation if extended over the full season.

Against Iowa, however, the Cats will have to shut down Hawkeyes superstar sophomore midfielder Katie Birch, who has tallied 12 goals in 13 games, good for 11th in the country in scoring average.

The Cats, on the other hand, trot out a much more diverse attack. Five different players have scored at least five goals this season, while only two Hawkeyes have accomplished the feat.

“More and more players are gaining confidence,” Fuchs said. “Our freshmen now are really starting to come into their own. They’ve been able to not only take care of their job but communicate to the people in front of them.”

NU will face a different challenge Sunday as the Cats look to stay undefeated at home against the Minutemen.

Massachusetts doesn’t have a goal scorer of Birch’s caliber, but its stingy defense has allowed only 5.4 penalty corners per game. Meanwhile, NU has taken over nine corners per game this season and scored six of its 10 weekend goals on such plays.

For the Cats, however, it’s one game at a time, and the first opportunity comes Friday at Iowa. Junior midfielder Puck Pentenga said NU lost its exhibition game to Iowa before the season, so the Cats know the danger the Hawkeyes pose to their conference title push, as they look to overtake No. 3 Michigan atop the conference standings this week.

“We know them pretty well. We play them every spring,” Pentenga said. “They’re a good team … They like to attack, so it’s going to be a fun game, but it’s definitely not going to be easy.”

Twitter: @joe_f_wilkinson