Field Hockey: Northwestern readies for the season with more questions than answers


Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Kirsten Mansfield surveys the field. The senior will need to have a strong season for NU to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.

Greg Svirnovskiy, Reporter

Before last season, recent history had been kind to Northwestern, a program that won at least 13 games every season since 2012, reliably finishing at least .500 in Big Ten play during that stretch. Great coaching, elite offensive players, and a solid point differential helped put NU in elite territory, where long trips through Big Ten Tournaments and NCAA Tournament appearances seemed a formality.

And then, as inexplicably as it was abrupt, the success stopped. Last year, returning much of the same team that won 15 games the year before, including leading scorer Puck Pentenga and assist machine Kirsten Mansfield, the Cats finished below .500 for the first time since 2008, winning just three of eight conference matchups in the process.

Why the losing spell? On the surface, that answer is simple, yet confounding. NU stopped scoring goals. Having found the back of the net at least 60 times from 2014 to 2017, including a 2016 season which saw them hit paydirt a whopping 75 times, the Cats scored just 42 goals last year.

In both 2017 and 2018, NU was led by Pentenga, who found the back of the net 11 times in each season. In both years, Mansfield’s passing prowess yielded 13 assists, pacing the team and facilitating the offense. In both years, the team carried playmakers like Eva Van Agt and Mackenzie Keegan.

This year, it’ll get even tougher. With Pentenga graduated, the Cats will be counting on different players for offense this season. Expect big seasons from senior back Mansfield, and senior midfielders Saar de Breij and Lily Gandhi, the trio named to the Big Ten preseason Honors list. To get where NU wants to be, those three will need to be at their best.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @GregonIceball