Field Hockey: No. 14 Northwestern opens Big Ten Tournament play against No. 16 Rutgers


Daily file photo by Alison Albelda

Kayla Blas runs for the ball. The sophomore defenseman recorded an assist against Indiana in the Cats’ last game.

Gabriela Carroll, Reporter

Field Hockey

Last time No. 14 Northwestern faced No. 16 Rutgers, the Wildcats walked away with an easy 4-1 victory. NU will take on a resurgent Scarlet Knights team in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday.

The Cats (13-6, 5-3 Big Ten) earned the No. 3 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, and to earn a bid in the NCAA tournament, coach Tracey Fuchs said the team will have to make a run this weekend.

And that starts with Rutgers (10-7, 4-4).

The Scarlet Knights’ biggest strength is their defense, which only allows an average of 1.29 goals. NU overcame that defense on Oct. 13 by forcing and converting penalty corners, which has been one of its strengths this season. The Cats will need to once again apply pressure into the circle and take as many shots as possible — a shot that leads to a penalty corner is almost as successful as one that leads to a goal.

With newly anointed Big Ten Freshman of the Year and All-Big Ten first team forward Bente Baekers leading the attack, the Cats are aiming to repeat their earlier performance against Rutgers.

“Although Bente has led the team in scoring, we have a lot of different threats, including field goals and our corner attack,” Fuchs said. “We’re hard to defend, because if you take one player out of the game, we have five or six that can step up.”

This is the first year of a new tournament format, where every game is played at the same site, this year, at Penn State. Previously, the first round of the tournament was a home game for the top seeds before the remaining teams travelled to one location for the semifinals and finals.

Having a home game may have provided an advantage for NU, but sophomore defenseman Kayla Blas said she thinks the road environment will help the Cats stay focused.

“The energy of seeing all the teams there constantly, of always being there on campus, and feeling the environment will keep us energized,” Blas said.

If the Cats win, they’ll move on to face the winner of Iowa vs. Ohio State. NU defeated the Buckeyes 4-1 on Sept. 20, but lost a heartbreaker to the Hawkeyes 2-1 on Oct. 26. Wins against the Scarlet Knights and either of those two teams would boost the Cats’ NCAA tournament resume.

Although NU is third in the Big Ten standings, there are three teams in the Big Ten ranked ahead of them in the national rankings, and need a boost this weekend to solidify a spot in the NCAA postseason.

“I think we’re all excited to finally be back there,” Blas said. “We want to earn it, and we want to fight for our teammates. It’s important, especially this weekend, to fight each game, to fight each whistle, and to fight for our teammates.”

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