Field Hockey: Northwestern defeats No.3 Maryland 2-1 to advance to NCAA Championship


Ella Galvin/The Daily Northwestern

The Wildcats celebrate after their win over Iowa, which secured their spot in the NCAA Final Four. The team had the same excitement Friday after they earned their second straight trip to the NCAA Championship Sunday.

Skye Swann, Assistant Gameday Editor

Revenge is a dish best served cold. 

Or, in Northwestern’s case, when hard-earned revenge punches a ticket to the NCAA Championship for a chance to earn its second straight title.  

The Wildcats (20-4, 5-3 Big Ten) defeated conference foe No. 3 Maryland 2-1 on Friday in Storrs, Connecticut to advance to the championship matchup. 

This was the programs’ third meeting this season, and NU was looking for revenge after two straight losses. It was also arguably the game with the highest stakes, as it determined whether NU’s postseason run would continue.  With scores from fifth year forward Bente Baekers and junior midfielder Chloe Relford, the squad was able to put the Terrapins away. 

“They played a hell of a game,” coach Tracey Fuchs said of the Terrapins. “I’m really proud of the way our team held strong today.”

Both programs came ready to play Friday, giving each other trouble on all ends of the field and holding each other scoreless until the fourth quarter. 

Baekers found her groove in the last 15 minutes, sending a corner attempt straight to the back of the cage to place the Cats in the lead. The goal signaled a shift in the game of NU, its determination to secure a spot in Sunday’s big game on clear display. 

It appeared NU would finish the game with a shutout for much of the fourth quarter. But Maryland responded quickly, tallying a goal of their own in the fourth quarter. With the clock running down, the Cats’ defense was put to the test when the Terrapins received a corner opportunity with one second remaining on the clock. 

Junior goalkeeper Annabel Skubisz came in clutch, forcing Maryland to shoot the ball over top. She had multiple game-change plays in regulation, giving the Cats second chance opportunities on the offensive end. Skubisz’s performance played a crucial role in anchoring the defense, alongside fifth year defender Kayla Blas. 

Fuchs said the matchup was a hard-fought 60 minutes, but she was proud of the team for giving one hundred percent effort on the field.  The Cats’ quick response after the Terrapins’ goal in the fourth was something it had worked toward the entire season, Fuchs added. 

Relford agreed, saying the offense remained calm after the goal and focused on getting possession of the ball and going back on the attack. 

“It’s pretty unbelievable,” Relford said. “Going to the first (championship) was a dream come true, so now being able to say we’re going to compete for a second one is unreal.”

Entering Sunday’s matchup, the Cats will need to prioritize defensive pressure going against No.1 North Carolina and its top-tier offense. NU will have to remain strong and focus on their speedy reactions on the field to ensure success. 

With this being the first meeting between the Cats and the Tar Heels this season, Fuchs said the squad has the same preparation as any other game: looking at the film and reviewing the scouting report to see which players might prove to be threats. North Carolina is no stranger to the NCAA championship game, earning consecutive national titles from 2018 to 2020. 

Going into Sunday, Blas said the team is grateful for the opportunity to earn another ring and the program’s second straight championship. In her last year on the team, she said it’s been especially exciting to see the program’s growth.

“Five years ago, when I started at Northwestern, we didn’t even make the tournament,” Blas said. “Being able to compete in the second straight one is definitely something really special.

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