Daily file photo by Kelsey Carroll
A few months ago, Northwestern defeated Rutgers to clinch a spot in the 2020 Big Ten Semifinals and exacted retribution for a regular season sweep.
On Friday afternoon, the then-No. 3 Wildcats (8-2, 0-1 Big Ten) did not have the same success, losing 2-1 to the No. 10 Scarlet Knights (8-1, 1-0 Big Ten) in the first conference game of the season.
“I don’t think we put together our best performance (Friday),” coach Tracey Fuchs said. “Rutgers possessed the ball well and was professional with the way they played.”
Coming off a five-game win streak, NU began its competitive conference schedule back on Lakeside Field with a packed stadium. From the first whistle, both groups battled intensively, with each defense preventing easy scoring opportunities.
The Cats’ defensive zone was put to the test early with Rutgers earning two penalty corners in the first quarter. Sophomore goalkeeper Annabel Skubisz held her own, defying all eight corners taken by the Scarlet Knights. Skubisz kept the group in the game until the last minute, tallying seven saves on 14 shot attempts — a career high for the sophomore.
The defensive zone’s success fueled the offensive momentum, creating shooting opportunities right before halftime. Junior defender Kayla Blas scored the squad’s lone goal in the 29th minute, edging NU to a 1-0 lead.
“As a team we connect so well with each other,” Blas said. “Our motto is ‘all-in.’ Every single ball, someone’s going hard to it and it just pushes you to go one step harder.”
Alongside her goal, Blas was a crucial component of the backline and corner defense. The First Team All-Big Ten Honoree praised the program’s defensive coaching unit for their corner success. She said the team practices penalty corners frequently, working to improve its strategy prior to each game.
When the second half started, the Cats struggled with the Scarlet Knights’ fast-paced offense. NU faced two consecutive corners before Rutgers scored in the third quarter, tying the game. As the fourth quarter progressed, The Cats’ defense fended off more shots until Rutgers midfielder Milena Redlingshoefer fired a shot straight past Skubisz’s feet.
From there, sophomore midfielder Maddie Zimmer and the rest of the team attempted everything — keeping the ball on the offensive side of the field, earning corners, taking shots — to send the game into overtime. Despite not recording a goal, Zimmer had one of her strongest performances of the season, exploiting the fast-break transitions and assisting the forwards inside the circle.
“She’s so dynamic and she’s holding her own,” Fuchs said. “She really has some great skills and that’s why she’s on the National Team.”
Fuchs highlighted Zimmer’s performance, noting her role helping transition the ball in the midfield and slowing down the Scarlet Knights’ offense. She said her athleticism and agility on the field is tough for opponents to handle.
With the first conference game in the books, NU’s next chance at redemption will come with Thursday’s away game in College Park, MD. Outshot by Rutgers 14-10, Blas said the team will work on shooting over the week in preparation.
“We didn’t take as many shots as we wanted, but that’s why we have to connect and finish on smaller passes,” Blas said. “I have full faith in our offense that we’ll be able to rip shots, but we will definitely work on it this week.”
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