Carroll: Northwestern field hockey’s national championship is culmination of years of growth


John Riker/Daily Senior Staffer

Bente Baekers, Clara Roth and Peyton Halsey celebrate a Northwestern goal. The team won the national championship in a 2-0 victory over Liberty Sunday.

Gabriela Carroll, Senior Staffer

Last year, Northwestern made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, a massive accomplishment. The Wildcats had only made the second round one other time during coach Tracey Fuchs’ tenure, which at the time spanned 12 years. 

Though NU made it to the tournament the year prior, they lost in the first round and missed the tournament in 2018, many of the seniors’ first year on the squad. 

Looking back at my three years covering the team, seeing the growth of these now national championship-winning players has been magical. 

Junior forward Bente Baekers was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2019, scoring the second-most goals in program history with 28. She made the shot in overtime that sent NU to the championship game.

Senior defender Kayla Blas was second team All-Big Ten in 2019, then just a sophomore but already a steady defender. She made the crucial save on Liberty’s best penalty corner try in the second period to keep the score tied at zero.

Junior defender Alia Marshall was a freshman in 2019, with just one career goal. She scored the game-winner early in the third, a tip-in on the penalty corner.

Sophomore midfielder Maddie Zimmer was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2020. The NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player scored the Cats’ second goal, a long shot from the top of the circle that was deflected by a Liberty player, in the dying seconds of the third quarter, icing the game.

Sophomore goaltender Annabel Skubisz got her first start in the first game of the 2020 season after graduated goaltender Florien Marcussen suffered an injury, and never relinquished that role. She pitched a shutout today on the biggest possible stage.

This team has grown together. With new additions came new energy and skills, and each graduation took stars away. Each year, the Cats advanced further and further, building off their progress. This national championship is the culmination of it all. 

The moment NU’s season started to feel like something truly special, to me at least, was its 2-1 win over previously undefeated No. 1 Iowa. 

The Cats were having a pretty standard season. They’d beaten a lot of good teams, they’d lost to a few good teams and were middle of the pack in the Big Ten. NU was still in the top ten in the country, but as many as five Big Ten teams were ranked ahead of them at any given time. 

Beating Iowa was a turning point. When Iowa tied the game late in the fourth quarter, it felt like the Cats were headed toward another overtime loss, having not won in overtime all season. 

But NU prevailed. 

Just under four minutes later, junior midfielder Ana Medina Garcia banked in a rebound, and the Cats defeated the number one team in the nation for the first time in program history. 

Going into the Big Ten tournament, NU was on a five-game winning streak. But after earning the fifth seed, they fell to Michigan in the first round in a shootout. The Cats were likely to make the NCAA Tournament, but with so many excellent teams in the field, they weren’t even close to the favorite to win it all. 

But they dug in, and they won, conceding just one goal in the entire tournament. NU held the nation’s highest scoring offense in Liberty at bay, after defeating the three-time defending champion North Carolina in the first round, and beating a familiar foe in Iowa in the second. 

Just making the Final Four was a massive accomplishment for Tracey Fuchs’s squad — the last time the program made the Final Four was in 1994. 

And then they won, and advanced to their first-ever national championship game. 

And then they won it all. 


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Twitter: @gablcarroll