Field Hockey: No. 3 Northwestern hosts NCAA Tournament for first time in program history


Daily file photo by Angeli Mittal

Lauren Wadas. The junior midfielder is tied for fourth on NU in goals.

Charlotte Varnes, Sports Editor

For the past three years, the word “host” has been written on coach Tracey Fuchs’ office whiteboard. 

Even amid successful Big Ten seasons and a national championship run, the word was never erased, as No. 3 Northwestern had not earned a high enough seed to host the tournament’s opening rounds. Now, the Wildcats (17-4, 5-3 Big Ten) are getting their chance.

As the No. 2  seed, NU will host its first-ever NCAA Tournament matchup against No. 25 Miami (OH) on Friday.

“It’s a testament to how much work our team has put in to get a number two seed and to be playing at home in Evanston,” Fuchs said.

A season removed from their first-ever national championship title, the Cats enter the postseason looking to bring more hardware back to Evanston.

NU dominated its regular season competition, with its only three losses coming against competitive Big Ten foes. This stellar play resulted in plenty of postseason accolades, including Big Ten Defender of the Year honors for fifth-year midfielder Kayla Blas and multiple All Big Ten First Team honorees. 

It was a jam-packed regular season stretch for the Cats, who played seven games in October alone. With a busy regular season schedule, Fuchs said she feels her team is prepared for the postseason and a strong showing Friday. 

Seeded No. 3 in the Big Ten Tournament, NU upset No. 2 Maryland last week to advance to the Big Ten Championship matchup for the first time since 2014. However, Michigan’s dynamic offense notched a 2-0 lead over the Cats toward the beginning of the second half, and the deficit proved too difficult to overcome. NU ultimately fell 2-1. 

Both Fuchs and junior midfielder Lauren Wadas said starting strong will be a priority for the Cats in the postseason — especially after Sunday’s loss.

“We talked about starting on our front foot,” Wadas said. “That’s something we implemented lately and have been focusing on. (We want to keep) that rolling through the NCAA Tournament.”

NU was fresh off Sunday’s loss when the team learned about its tournament fate. Sitting on the plane back to Evanston, the Cats followed along as the bracket was unveiled. 

Fuchs said the team was quiet following the loss, but learning about their No. 2 seeding quickly changed the dynamic. An unhappy environment quickly transformed into one of joy and excitement, Fuchs said.  

One of the last teams to hear their names called, Wadas said the Cats were nervous watching, but excited about the eventual outcome. 

“(We knew) our name was going to be called, but (we were) kind of antsy, like ‘Are we going to host? What seed are we going to end at?’” Wadas said. 

While Friday marks a fresh start to the postseason, lessons learned during NU’s 2021 national championship run are key to its philosophy this season. Not looking too far into the future is important, Wadas said. 

“We need to do the same (as last year): not looking ahead at our opponents, but taking it one game at a time,” Wadas said.

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Twitter: @charvarnes11

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