Field Hockey: No. 4 Northwestern falls in Big Ten Tournament Championship to No. 6 Michigan


Daily file photo by Angeli Mittal

Senior midfielder Alia Marshall maintains possession of the ball against Michigan. The Delaware native scored an early goal and made a crucial goal-line stop in the semifinals against Maryland.

Jake Epstein, Reporter

After a 2-1 victory over No. 2 Maryland (17-3, 7-1 Big Ten) in the semifinals, Northwestern (17-4, 5-3 Big Ten) looked to secure its first Big Ten Field Hockey Tournament Championship since 2014. The Wildcats came up short, losing 2-1 to No. 6 Michigan (14-5, 5-3 Big Ten).

NU quickly controlled the tempo of Friday’s semifinal win against the Terrapins, amassing a 2-0 lead. The Cats would not have the same fortune in the championship Sunday, as the Wolverines had them on their heels.

“We didn’t start well today, but (in) the last two games we’ve really started on our front foot,” Coach Tracey Fuchs said.

Eleven minutes into the contest, NU was awarded its first penalty corner. The Cats didn’t register a shot, and Michigan quickly went on the offensive.

Less than a minute later, Wolverine forward Katie Anderson hit a slap-shot from the right side of the circle. Forward Kate McLaughlin redirected the ball past junior goalkeeper Annabel Skubisz and into the goal. NU trailed for the first time in the tournament.

While the Cats failed to register a single shot on target in the first half, Skubisz kept the team in the game, tallying five first half saves.

“It all starts with her (Skubisz),” Fuchs said. “She had a pretty good weekend, and we’re going to look for her next weekend to equal that (performance).”

At the half, Fuchs urged her team to settle down and play with more aggressiveness; however, Michigan started the second half on the attack. After earning a penalty corner, the Wolverines fired a shot that Skubisz could only deflect as far as Wolverine midfielder Brynn Zorilla, who made slight contact with the ball to score her first goal of the season.

Just four minutes into the second half, NU trailed by two against one of the nation’s stingiest defenses. Both sides pushed for the next decisive goal, but the third quarter ended with Michigan leading 2-0.

The Cats finally got on the board with five minutes remaining, when fifth-year back Kayla Blas fed junior midfielder Lauren Wadas on a penalty corner. The Pennsylvania native weaved her way through traffic and fired an off-balance shot behind the Wolverine goalie to cut the deficit in half.

“She brought her game to another level today,” Fuchs said of Wadas. “She scored a goal, (but) more than that, she was just a presence all over the field and was one of our players who really matched them (Michigan) physically.”

Wadas’ goal seemed to instantly shift momentum in NU’s favor. Thirty seconds later, the Cats gained a one-player advantage when Wolverine forward Sarah Pyrtek received a green card. 

Fuchs pulled Skubisz to the bench, which afforded NU an extra attacker to push for a late equalizer. Shortly thereafter, senior midfielder Ana Medina Garcia, who played both center forward and center back throughout the tournament, fired a shot just wide of the Michigan goal. 

Despite a dangerous last-second attack, which the Cats referred to the umpires for a penalty corner, the matchup was ruled over. The Wolverines held on to win a record-eighth Big Ten Tournament Championship.

In a tournament where each NU game was decided by a one-goal margin, Wadas and senior midfielder Alia Marshall were selected to the Big Ten Field Hockey All-Tournament Team.

“(Especially) in the Big Ten, everyone is so good and can score so quickly,” Marshall said.

After a second-place finish in what Fuchs described as the best conference tournament in the country, the team returns to Evanston where they’ll finish preparations in search of a second-consecutive national title.

The Cats secured the No. 2 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and will face the winner of Miami (Ohio) and Rider. 

 “We’ve been in some really tight games, and we’ve won a majority of them,” Fuchs said. “We know Michigan’s a top-five team, so we’re not happy (ever) about losing, but it’s only going to make us better for next week.”

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