Field Hockey: Bente Baekers’ offense keys No. 7 Northwestern’s early run

Greg Svirnovskiy, Assistant Sports Editor

Field Hockey

Throughout all of Bente Baekers’ formative years spent playing field hockey in the Netherlands, she could always count on one constant. Home or away, rain or shine, she’d always find her parents, Ann and Fred, watching watching in the stands.

“Back in the Netherlands, the country is very small,” Baekers said. “The farthest away game would be like two hours away. So my parents would always be there, every game, even if my brother and sister were playing too.”

Alas, the Atlantic Ocean is a far greater obstacle. Baekers’ parents have yet to see her play a game for Northwestern, a program she’s propelled to a great start. And now, her parents get to watch her play.

The redshirt freshman forward is in the midst of a breakout season, leading the Wildcats with 14 goals and 29 points through the first ten games of the season. That’s almost three times as many goals as second-highest scoring teammate Lakin Barry, who has five.

They’ll need her to be in top form this weekend, as No. 7 NU (8-2, 1-0 Big Ten) will face off against No. 24 Michigan State (5-3, 0-1) Friday and No. 9 Michigan (5-2) on Sunday.

Coach Tracey Fuchs said the key to success in these conference openers for the Cats will be their depth and ability to rotate players.

“They’re running between six and eight miles,” Fuchs said. “To come off for two minutes, get their heart rate down and get some water and just chill for a minute, I think really helps them.

Baekers’ offensive production has also played an important role in NU’s recent six-game winning streak, as Fuchs said she has fundamentally changed the team’s offense.

“The kid’s a gamer,” Fuchs said. “She’s a finisher. When the game’s on the line, you want the ball in her hands. And she can get a shot off with a foot of space between her and the defender, and that’s really made the difference.”

With the Cats losing two of their three top scorers to graduation last year, Puck Pentenga and Eva van Agt, Baekers’ emergence has been criticial. But others are picking up the slack too. Saar de Breij, who scored four goals in 18 games last year, has equaled that total in just ten this year, and Barry has almost equaled last year’s total in just over half of last year’s games.

But for Baekers, this weekend, she’ll play the game she loves, how it’s meant to be played: mom and dad, in the stands, cheering and watching with bated breath.

“I catch myself sometimes looking at the crowd here and not seeing them, which is really sad,” Baekers said. “But now that they’re here, it’s going to be really nice to just hug them after the game.”

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