Field Hockey: Wildcats fall to Michigan in Big Ten Tournament semifinals


Daily file photo by Kate Salvidio

Elena Curley runs upfield. The senior midfielder and the Wildcats fell to top-seeded Michigan in the Big Ten tournament semifinals Friday.

Joseph Wilkinson, Assistant Sports Editor

Field Hockey

Since Sept. 22, Northwestern has only lost two games. Both times, Michigan has stood in its way, most recently racking up a 2-0 victory in Friday’s Big Ten Tournament semifinals.

The Wolverines took the lead just 37 seconds into the match and never looked back, adding a second goal 30 minutes later and holding on to advance to the final.

“We came out sluggish,” coach Tracey Fuchs said. “For them to get a goal in the first minute really took the wind out of our sails.”

It was the third straight Big Ten Tournament semifinal loss for the Wildcats, who fell in overtime to Maryland each of the previous two years.

Unlike those matches, however, NU was unable to get on the board against Michigan’s stifling defense. The Wolverines didn’t allow a goal the entire tournament in their run to the championship.

“They’re a tough team,” Fuchs said. “To go down 1-0, with their defense and how they’ve played all season, it was like we were running uphill. They’re a good team and congratulations to them.”

Michigan midfielder Guadalupe Fernandez Lacort set the tone with the early goal, streaking down the left side of the field and finishing a perfect pass from forward Emma Way.

The Wolverines continued to control play throughout the half, with various counterattacks from the Cats falling a pass or two short. Michigan’s Meg Dowthwaite, the second leading scorer in the conference, put the Wolverines ahead 2-0, cementing the advantage. In the first period, Michigan outshot NU 8-1 and dominated possession.

“Michigan is just a really physical team,” senior defender Sophia Miller said. “That’s where we needed to step up a little bit more. That first goal put us on our heels for sure, but it was also a little bit of a wake-up call.”

The Cats attempted a furious comeback in the second half, outshooting the Wolverines 6-2 in the period. NU put four of those shots on net, but Michigan goalkeeper Sam Swenson saved all four.

Swenson, the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, led the nation with a .837 save percentage and stopped all five shots on goal from the Cats on Friday.

“We knew we were down 2-0. We just had to come, attack and press,” junior midfielder Puck Pentenga said. “We had our energy up a little bit more. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough, but we definitely had a good fight the second half.”

NU will get another chance to bring that fight in the NCAA Tournament next weekend. For the first time since winning the Big Ten Tournament in 2014, the Cats were selected as part of the 18-team field.

Another showdown with the Wolverines could be on the horizon. If both teams win their first round games, they’ll square off for the third time this season. Michigan has shown a unique ability to slow down the Cats’ high-flying attack this season.

NU attempted only two penalty corners Friday, both coming with less than 15 minutes remaining in the second half. The Cats led the conference in corner attempts this season, averaging over eight per game, but in their two games against the Wolverines managed just five total attempts and no goals.

NU averages over 15 shots per game, but has taken only 14 total in its two showdowns with the conference champs. For now, however, the Cats are simply happy to be back in the tournament after barely missing the cut the past two years.

“It’s awesome,” Fuchs said. “These guys have worked really hard, and they’re going to get rewarded for all the hard work they put in this summer, last spring, and this fall. I’m really, really happy. It’s really hard to get in in our sport, and they proved they’re some of the best in the country.”

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