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The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Field Hockey: Skubisz’s late-game heroics not enough, No. 2 Northwestern falls in national championship to No. 1 UNC

Senior+goalkeeper+Annabel+Skubisz.+The+Texan+made+four+saves%2C+including+three+in+overtime%2C+in+No.+2+Northwestern%E2%80%99s+national+championship+loss+to+No.+1+UNC+Sunday.
Daily file photo by Esther Lim
Senior goalkeeper Annabel Skubisz. The Texan made four saves, including three in overtime, in No. 2 Northwestern’s national championship loss to No. 1 UNC Sunday.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Senior goalkeeper Annabel Skubisz wiggled her left leg twice, then she froze. 

With 2:17 remaining in the first overtime period of its national championship clash with No. 1 UNC, No. 2 Northwestern’s title game hopes hinged on Skubisz’s ability to come up with one more instrumental stop. A mere seven yards separated Skubisz and Tar Heel forward Ryleigh Heck, who, with one flick, could put the finishing touches on Sunday’s end-to-end thriller and secure an 11th national title for UNC. 

The whistle blew. Heck took one step before firing a shot toward the left corner of the cage. Skubisz was alert to the strike, leaping right and parrying the penalty stroke shot away with her stick. 

As the ball clattered off the post, a cacophony of cheers erupted from the NU bench. Skubisz popped up to join the celebration — her efforts had kept the ‘Cats alive. 

In a moment where just about anyone would’ve felt small, suffocated by the weight of a season hanging in the balance and a sea of Carolina blue flanking her, Skubisz stood tall. She tracked the drag and direction of Heck’s shot the entire way, coming up with yet another save — one of four on the day — to keep NU humming.

“She’s as good as you get,” coach Tracey Fuchs said postgame. “Both teams had three or four chances each in overtime to win that match, and both goalies came up big on both sides.”

However, Skubisz’s heroics, highlighted by a three-save display in the first overtime period, were all ultimately for naught. 

After 20 minutes of scoreless post-regulation hockey, a penalty shootout would decide the victor of Sunday’s national championship affair. Skubisz made a sliding save and pressured two Tar Heels into mistakes in the shootout’s initial five-attempt foray. But, the ‘Cats were unable to bag the necessary third tally to secure the triumph, sending the shootout to sudden death. 

Following UNC goalkeeper Maddie Kahn’s save of graduate student forward Peyton Halsey’s shot, Skubisz and Heck faced off once again with the game on the line.

This time, Heck won the battle. The Tar Heel dribbled methodically at the NU goaltender, eventually circling wide and pushing her shot just beyond the outstretched left leg of Skubisz. 

As a gaggle of Carolina blue jerseys swarmed Heck in front of the goal, Skubisz took off her helmet and walked stoically toward her teammates standing near the bench. The Texan had done all she could in an 80-minute war of attrition between two of the sport’s premier programs. 

Skubisz, who Fuchs has long hailed as the nation’s best goalkeeper, lived up to the billing in Chapel Hill on Sunday — just as she had for much of the season.

Her 13 shutouts set the single-season record for an NU goalkeeper. Fortified by a stout backline, Skubisz surrendered an NCAA-fewest 15 goals this season. 

Her consistent heroics in front of the cage — from her season-high eight-save efforts against Penn State and Ohio State to her six-game shutout streak in September and October — earned her numerous accolades including Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year, Big Ten Tournament MVP and a first team all-conference nod. 

Whether she faced consistent pressure or was called on in one big moment, Skubisz rose to the occasion at multiple points throughout the season, Fuchs said.

Although the ‘Cats once again suffered heartbreak at the hands of UNC on the final day of the season, Skubisz, along with NU’s core upperclassmen, left an indelible mark on Fuchs’ program.

“They’ve been amazing,” Fuchs said. “That game was back-and-forth (and) so exciting — really great for our sport. It hurts today, but I think when we look back, we’ll be really, really proud.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @CervantesPAlex 

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