Field Hockey: Northwestern’s penalty corner defense stole the show in the Big Ten Tournament


Kelsey Carroll/The Daily Northwestern

Christen Conley passes the ball. The senior is one of the Cats’ four corner defensemen and stepped up during the Cats’ game against Ohio State.

Gabriela Carroll, Senior Staffer

Field Hockey

In the Big Ten Tournament, Northwestern lived and died by its penalty corner defense.

On Wednesday, the Wildcats shut down Rutgers’ penalty corners to get the win. A day later, Ohio State equalized its Big Ten semifinal matchup against NU on a quick penalty corner, stunting the Cats’ momentum. Eventually, the Buckeyes would defeat NU in overtime.

In the regular season, the Scarlet Knights feasted on the Cats’ on penalty corners. On April 9, Rutgers drew just two penalty corners, but scored on both of them. NU struggled to defend both initial shots and their rebounds and never recovered from that early deficit. In the second matchup on April 11, the Scarlet Knights again had just two corners, but again scored on both.

“Our corner defense has been our strongest asset all year,” coach Tracey Fuchs said. “When we played them in (Piscataway), Rutgers had four corners all weekend and scored on all four. We came in with a chip on our shoulder, and we made some adjustments.”

To get the win in the first round, the Cats switched up their defense on the corner. Their four defenders tried a few new looks to stop all seven of the Scarlet Knights’ opportunities.

“Usually I’m a fly and I fly out and put a lot of pressure on the ball, but this game I held back a little bit,” sophomore defender Alia Marshall said. “We trusted (goalie) Annabel (Skubisz), we let Annabel make the first save and then we pounced on the rebounds and got them out of the circle.”

This goalie-based approach helped NU avoid the tip-in and passing opportunities that helped Rutgers score two of their four corner goals in their regular season matchup, and take down the Scarlet Knights 2-1.

But up against Ohio State, the Cats did not get as lucky. Marshall and the penalty corner defense changed it up again, with Marshall returning to the usual fly spot, and they stopped five of the Buckeyes’ six attempts. Skubisz also played a big role in the corner defense, stepping up and making strong saves and deflections.

The corner the Buckeyes finally scored on was controversial. Initially, no corner was called, but Ohio State’s Mackenzie Allessie requested a video review, arguing that the ball had touched junior midfielder Shannon Daley’s foot. Ohio State was granted the corner, and Allessie took advantage, scoring right from the top with a rocket.

That goal wasn’t game-deciding, and the shot came in so fast that it’s tough to ask anyone to stop it. But the Cats lost the momentum from having scored the first goal of the game, and ended up losing the game 2-1 in overtime.

If NU earns an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament, they’ll need to rely on their penalty corner defense, like they have for much of the season, and like they did in the Big Ten Tournament, despite the unfortunate result.

“The corner unit was really strong,” said senior defender Christen Conley. “They were just able to knock one in. Props to them, it was a nice shot.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @gablcarroll

Related Stories:
Field Hockey: No. 4 Northwestern sweeps Iowa in regular season finale
Field Hockey: No. 3 Northwestern defeats No. 6 Rutgers to advance to Big Ten Tournament semifinals
Field Hockey: No. 3 Northwestern fell in overtime to No. 7 Ohio State in Big Ten Semifinals