Field Hockey: Northwestern secures second straight ticket to Final Four after defeating Iowa in penalty strokes


Ella Galvin/The Daily Northwestern

Fifth-year backer Kayla Blas dribbles the ball through Iowa sticks on Lakeside Field. Blas played a crucial role in limiting the Hawkeyes to just two corners in the Wildcats’ NCAA Semifinal matchup.

Skye Swann, Assistant Gameday Editor

For the second year in a row, Northwestern is dancing into the NCAA Division I Field Hockey Final Four after defeating Iowa 4-3 in penalty shootouts Sunday. 

Sixty minutes of regulation, two competitive overtimes and a shootout later, the Wildcats cruised past the Hawkeyes to book their tickets to Storrs, Connecticut. 

“These guys have no quit in them,” coach Tracey Fuchs said. “I’m so proud of them and fighting back not once but twice … couldn’t be happier that they’re getting a second Final Four.”

But the Cats (19-4, 5-3 Big Ten) didn’t have it easy on Sunday, battling their way through a high-pressured Iowa (12-8, 4-4 Big Ten) defense. Graduate forward Bente Baekers, senior midfielder Ana Medina Garcia and junior midfielder Lauren Wadas were key players in the victory, lifting NU to victory. 

The entire contest was a battle between both groups’ midfield units as they traded possession back and forth in the center of the field. The Cats couldn’t score until early in the fourth quarter off of a penalty corner. NU’s attack sparked after Iowa took a quick, one-goal advantage in the 46th minute. 

Junior goalkeeper Annabel Skubisz said the team’s adversity this season with key losses in the middle of the season inspired a quicker response when they trail in the game. The adversity, she said, made the group stronger and prepared them to play tough, all-out matchups, like Sunday’s semifinal and Friday’s quarterfinal. 

Skubisz stood as the backbone of the Cats’ defense despite not receiving much action until the later half of the contest. She finished the game with the life-saving stop against Iowa forward Annika Herbine in penalty strokes to continue NU’s postseason run. 

Although she remained calm on the field, Skubisz said there was extreme pressure during those final minutes to attempt to save every shot. 

“The biggest thing is knowing how much my teammates believe in me is super helpful,” Skubisz said. “I just try to control the circle as much as I can.”

Despite low temperatures, fifth-year defender Kayla Blas was unfazed — playing without any cold gear and still unstoppable on the field. 

Blas moved with poise inside the Cats’ sixteen, limiting the Hawkeyes to only two corners throughout the entire game. Fuchs said her all-around athleticism on the field and big game-changing plays have assisted NU in their success this season. 

Those offensive rebounds came up big for the Cats towards the end of the fourth quarter, when the team was rushing to put another goal away and avoid heading into another overtime situation. Wadas, Baekers and junior midfielder Maddie Zimmer kept the ball inside Iowa’s circle, trying to force more corner opportunities to no avail. 

After two competitive overtime periods, NU headed into penalty strokes, with a chance at returning to the Final Four on the line. Regardless of the reigning champion status, Wadas said every game is a reset for the squad. There is a chip on the program’s shoulder, but she said the girls are only focused on playing their best form every game.

Wadas was one of the five players Fuchs selected to take strokes for the team at the end of the second overtime. Although she missed, her hustle and grit in the game gave Iowa immense trouble during transitions in the midfield. 

In their second straight Final Four appearance, the Cats are facing another Big Ten foe in Maryland. After losing to the Terrapins in overtime during the regular season, the squad looks to get revenge in Storrs. 

“Sharing our experiences with the younger girls on the team (has made us more confident),” Wadas said. “Sharing our experience with being in the Final Four last year will help us as a team.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @sswann301

Related Stories: 

Field Hockey: Rapid Recap: Northwestern 2, Miami 1

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

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