Field Hockey: Swann: Northwestern’s sluggish offensive performance was its downfall in championship loss


Angeli Mittal/Daily Senior Staffer

Fifth-year defender Kayla Blas passes the ball to a teammate. Blas served as a backbone and a leader for the Wildcats this season.

Skye Swann, Assistant Gameday Editor

In its final matchup on the biggest stage, Northwestern fell short against an undefeated North Carolina team, losing the NCAA Division I Field Hockey Championship. 

The Wildcats walked into Sunday’s contest as the underdog, battling a gritty Tar Heels program. Nonetheless, North Carolina’s reputation speaks for itself after earning three back to back championships from 2018 to 2020. Although NU entered Storrs, Connecticut as the reigning champs, its hard fought efforts were fruitless against a powerhouse of a program.

“North Carolina was really feisty today,” coach Tracey Fuchs said. “They were upsetting our play. We weren’t connecting as good as usual.”

The Cats struggled to pick up the pace early on. A concern throughout the season, NU moved visibly slower on the field in comparison to the Tar Heels, losing in transition and struggling with the ball inside the sixteen. 

Further into regulation, the Cats worked to find a spark on the offensive end, seeking more looks at the cage. However, the squad could not pull it together before the end of the first half. Fortunately, the Tar Heels were scoreless as well, so it was still an equal matchup through the next 17 minutes.

And yet, NU made minimal adjustments for the next two periods, still struggling to speed up its game and becoming more gritty on the offensive end. The defensive side was put to the test, fighting off a high-attacking opponent who was working tirelessly to obtain a goal. Ultimately, it succeeded. North Carolina executed, scoring a clean goal that slid right past junior goalkeeper Annabel Skubisz. 

After their win to secure a Final Four appearance, the Cats were working on improving their reactiveness on the ball, Skubisz said. But, NU remained passive, taking a long time to get a corner and making careless miscues that caused forceful turnovers. 

In Friday’s matchup to Maryland, the group was strong and had control of the game. On Sunday, it was the complete opposite. 

“If we would have (kept our sticks on the ball more) in the first half, it might have been a little bit different, but (we) can’t go out there and change that outcome,” fifth-year defender Kayla Blas said. 

While graduate student forward Bente Baekers scored a last minute goal to tie the game, the small glimpse of the typically-dynamic Cats only lasted a brief second. The Tar Heels made it harder for the squad to get back on the offensive end. Instead, Skubisz was put back on the front end, not saving North Carolina’s second goal, ending the game. 

A bittersweet ending, NU definitely did not want to end its season with this outcome. Now, the Cats lose core players such as Blas to graduation. But regardless of this heartbreaking end, the program will return a majority of its core team next season to go even harder. 

The Cats finished their 2022 campaign in epic fashion, notching a second consecutive appearance in the NCAA Championship and making program history in hosting the NCAA Tournament. On top of that, NU witnessed star players reaching career highs this season, putting icing on the top of the cake. 

“The thing that I’m always gonna remember as my best friends, all 25 girls in that locker room are the people that make me laugh, make me smile, and that I look forward to seeing every single day,” Blas said.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @sswann301

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