Field Hockey: Final Four bound: Northwestern knocks off No. 2 Iowa, advancing to the NCAA semifinals


Kelsey Carroll/Daily Senior Staffer

Sophomore midfielder Maddie Zimmer dribbles the ball down the field. Zimmer scored a coast-to-coast goal in Northwestern’s Elite Eight win Friday.

Skye Swann, Assistant Sports Editor

Field Hockey

After a tightly contested 59 minutes of regulation, Northwestern saw an opportunity to send Iowa home and advance to the next round of the Big Dance.

With 60 seconds left on the game clock, Wildcat sophomore midfielder Lauren Wadas battled through defensive pressure on the edge of the circle, searching to find a shooting angle. Dodging through sticks, Wadas saw an opening and cranked a reverse backhand shot right past Iowa’s goalkeeper.

“It was so exciting,” Wadas said. “I’m glad we could come out on top. We played so well as a team today. I’m glad we are able to advance.”

The Wildcats (16-5, 5-3 Big Ten) stunned the No. 2 Hawkeyes 1-0 Sunday in Iowa City, Iowa, advancing to the 2021 NCAA Final Four.

After achieving the program’s first Final Four berth in nearly two decades, coach Tracey Fuchs was exhilarated about knocking out Iowa (17-3, 7-1). She called the Hawkeyes a talented team, saying NU knew the faceoff would be an all-out fight till the buzzer ended regulation. Avenging the 2021 Elite Eight loss, Fuchs said the Cats’ victory had the squad “over the moon.”

NU’s NCAA Tournament run started on Friday with an impressive 2-0 win over North Carolina, which had won the 2021 Division I and ACC Field Hockey championships. Even though the Cats didn’t play the Tar Heels in the regular season, sophomore midfielder Maddie Zimmer said the group approached the matchup ready and prepared.

But both teams fought hard; the first three periods of the game were scoreless. NU seized the upper hand when junior midfielder Ana Medina Garcia secured a goal off a rebound cross.

Zimmer quickly followed up Medina Garcia’s score with a coast-to-coast goal after a monumental save from sophomore goalkeeper Annabel Skubisz. The Cats’ midfield unit improved tremendously throughout the season, allowing Zimmer to get those fastbreak runs down the field. She also said NU’s success this fall stemmed from its work in the offseason following the heartbreaking Elite Eight loss in May.

“It’s every team’s dream to go to the Final Four, but I think our dream started becoming a reality heading into this NCAA Tournament,” Zimmer said. “Everyone on the team has been working so hard during the offseason, the season leading up to these games.”

Heading into Sunday’s contest, Fuchs said the squad sought revenge for the Hawkeyes ending its 2020-21 campaign. With Iowa hosting the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament, Fuchs realized NU headed into the contest at a disadvantage, but she said the Cats were more than ready.

From the first whistle, the Cats and Hawkeyes played intensely, shutting down each team’s opportunities to score. Outshooting Iowa 13-5, NU had its chances at the cage but couldn’t connect.

NU’s backline stole the show, forcing the Hawkeyes from invading the circle to take shots on Skubisz. Zimmer praised the defensive unit, adding the group’s defense contributed to its offensive production on the opposite end of the field. As the game clock dwindled down, it appeared NU and Iowa were headed into overtime, as both squads had yet to score.

In the final minute, everything changed. 

The Cats had possession and took the ball inside the circle, hoping to get one more shot on goal. When she got the ball, Wadas said the Hawkeyes’ defensive pressure did not ease up one moment and attributed her teammates’ work inside the circle as something that helped give her the lane to shoot and score.

Following the goal, Fuchs said NU refocused itself for the remaining seconds, ensuring the Hawkeyes couldn’t tie the game on a fastbreak run. And the Cats sealed the deal, denying Iowa any opportunity to score.

NU will play next against Harvard in the Final Four.

“We have a dynamite team,” Fuchs said. “We’re gonna enjoy this night and get to work tomorrow. We’ll be ready to play on Friday for sure.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @sswann301

Related Stories: 

Field Hockey: Northwestern will square off against No. 8 North Carolina Friday in Iowa City

Field Hockey: Northwestern’s Big Ten Tournament run ends in a jaw-dropping shootout loss to No. 2 Michigan.

Field Hockey: Northwestern knocks down No. 1 Iowa and concludes regular season with shutout win over Indiana