Field Hockey: After up and down season, Wildcats primed for postseason stop against Michigan


Daily file photo by Alison Albelda

Christen Conley controls the ball. The sophomore has six assists on the season.

Greg Svirnovskiy, Reporter

Field Hockey

At the end of practice Thursday, each member of the Wildcats stood on their feet in the huddle, arms raised and towards the center. They shouted in unison.

“Beat Michigan!”

There’s few places better for poetic justice than the Big Ten Tournament, and Northwestern will get its chance this week. On Sunday, the Cats (9-9, 3-5 Big Ten) will face the Wolverines (12-5, 7-1) in the Big Ten quarterfinals — the team that handed them three losses last year, eliminating them from both the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments. The team that beat them once already this year.

They want this one.

“I honestly wouldn’t want to go up against any other team,” senior midfielder Charlotte Vaziri said. “I feel like this rivalry we’ve formed with them is really the best way to get us hyped up and excited for the game ahead of us. We know them well.”

They head to Ann Arbor after a regular season of grandiose heights and frustrating lows. NU is led by senior midfielder Puck Pentenga, the team’s top scorer, and junior goalkeeper Annie Kalfas, but finished with a sub-.500 record in Big Ten play after a promising start to the season was shaken by a stretch of close losses.

None of that matters now. The Cats know any hopes of an NCAA Tournament bid likely rest on how far they advance in the Big Ten Tournament. A win against Michigan extends their season; a loss sends them home.

At practice Wednesday, NU worked on its press offense and defensive presence in the circle. Goalkeepers faced many shots as the rest of the team scrimmaged for the whole afternoon.

“It’s always an aggressive game against Michigan so we’re working on training to get in that aggressive mentality,” Vaziri said.

Coach Tracey Fuchs said the team has been playing better than its No. 7 seed would suggest. She said it’s all up to the team to prove that to the world on Sunday.

Fuchs said her confidence in the team’s postseason chances was bolstered after their performance at Maryland last week. Despite a tough one-goal loss, NU outshot the Terrapins, 15-12, and forced nine saves off of opposing goalkeeper Sarah Holliday.

“We just went out and did the simple well,” Fuchs said. “We didn’t try to do too much and we were really strong and matched their intensity and their skill level. If we play that way we have a chance to beat anyone in the country.”

The Cats’ achilles heel has been their struggles defending penalty corners and stopping scrums in front of the net. Fuchs estimated they’re now “40 percent” better than they were two weeks ago.

After a season full of adversity and one goal defeats, she said NU has not lost is its work ethic and intensity. She said if those qualities are clicking on Sunday, the Cats have a chance.

“We’ve had some good games against them we just haven’t been able to pull out a victory,” Fuchs said. “We think it’s time. We’re gonna give it everything we have. Whatever happens happens, but we’re not gonna go in afraid and we’re not gonna go in fearing losing.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @GSvirnovskiy