Field Hockey: Northwestern faces top-seeded Michigan in Big Ten tournament semifinal


Daily file photo by Kate Salvidio

Puck Pentenga battles for the ball. The junior midfielder and the Wildcats will battle top-seeded Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals Friday.

Brett Haensel, Reporter

Field Hockey

Michigan hasn’t felt the sting of defeat in nearly two months.

Northwestern will look to put an end to the Wolverines’ 14-game winning streak when it takes the field for Friday’s Big Ten semifinal in East Lansing.

Top-seeded Michigan (17-2, 8-0 Big Ten) did not lose a game in regular season conference play and handed the No. 4 seed Wildcats (14-5, 6-2) a 1-0 loss in Ann Arbor just two weeks ago.

“They’re a tough team both physically and mentally,” senior defender Sophia Miller said. “Last time it was pretty hard to get around their press, so I think that we’re going to really have to play versatile hockey and play around the outsides of them.”

NU struggled to generate much offense in its previous matchup against the Wolverines, tallying just seven shots –– well below its season average of 16. Michigan star midfielder Katie Trombetta scored the lone goal of the game and looks to continue her stellar season in Friday’s matchup against the Cats.

Trombetta was voted Big Ten Player of the Year and was unanimously selected to the All-Big Ten first team.

“She does everything well,” coach Tracey Fuchs said. “She’s a good playmaker, she’s their glue in the middle.”

NU has rebounded from the loss against the Wolverines, stringing together consecutive wins, including a 4-3 thriller against No. 5 seed Rutgers (9-9, 3-5) in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament. Junior midfielder Puck Pentenga and junior forward Pascale Massey –– the heroes of the victory over the Scarlet Knights –– also earned Big Ten honors, as they were named to the All-Big Ten first team and second team, respectively.

Miller was one of three unanimous selections to the first team, leading a defensive unit that is allowing only 1.8 goals per game.

“Miller is probably one of the best defenders in the country,” Fuchs said. “She might not get it on the stat sheet, but she was a unanimous first team pick, which really is a tribute to her.”

The Cats will need big contributions from Pentenga, Massey and Miller to take down a Michigan team that is ranked third in the country.

Michigan is in the midst of an incredible run of dominance, outscoring opponents 54-6 over its 14-game winning streak. The Wolverines dismantled several top-ranked teams along the way, including No. 3 seed Penn State (15-3, 6-2) in September. The Nittany Lions are currently the fifth-ranked team in the country.

With a win Friday, NU will earn a spot in the Big Ten title game, where it would face the winner of the semifinal matchup between No. 2 seed Maryland (13-5, 6-2) and Penn State. The Cats played both earlier in the year, losing a close 4-3 game to the Nittany Lions in State College before defeating the Terrapins 3-2 in College Park.

Sophomore goaltender Annie Kalfas will look to continue her solid play that has helped NU become the ninth-ranked team in the nation and put it in good shape to earn an NCAA Tournament bid. Kalfas’ performance between the pipes could go a long way in ensuring that the Cats season does not end after the conclusion of the Big Ten Tournament.

“Michigan is fit, they have skilled players and they work well together as a team,” Kalfas said. “But they’re not unbeatable, and we’re going into this matchup ready to be the first Big Ten team to beat them this season.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @bretthaensel