Northwestern field hockey set to take on Harvard in NCAA Final Four

By Logan Schiciano

The final weekend of the 2021 NCAA Field Hockey season is set to kick off Friday, and No. 7 Northwestern hopes to be a big part of the story. The ‘Cats square off against No. 12 Harvard in the second semifinal matchup at 2 p.m. CST from Ann Arbor, MI. 

After advancing past No. 4 Iowa in the Elite Eight on Sunday, the ‘Cats had three days back in Evanston to soak up support from the NU faithful. 

Notably, the team received shoutouts from men’s basketball head coach Chris Collins, women’s basketball head coach Joe McKeown and football head coach Pat Fitzgerald during press events this week. 

On Wednesday, the ‘Cats received a surprise visit from the football team at practice, and friends, family and other athletes cheered them on as they boarded their bus outside Walter Athletics Center. 

Junior Alia Marshall said she and her teammates have fed off of all the encouragement.

“Our athletic department has over 500 student-athletes, and I’ve had people I’ve never talked to coming up to me and congratulating me on making it to the Final Four,” she said. “It warms my heart to know that people I’ve never even talked to are rooting for us.”

A large portion of a sold-out crowd will be backing Northwestern when it battles the Crimson tomorrow at Phyllis Ocker Field.

Harvard has made it far in the tournament by leaning on what they do best: defense. The team only allowed seven goals all season, and its goalie Ellie Shahbo has the best goals-against average in the country by far. In its first and second-round matchups, Harvard shut out No. 6 Louisville and No. 2 Michigan, winning both games 1-0. 

What bodes well for Northwestern is that it has the NCAA’s second-best offense, with 75 goals scored this season. Harvard, in comparison, has only scored 42. Northwestern is also playing strong defensively, having allowed only two goals in its last four games. 

Head coach Tracy Fuchs said Harvard will present a tough test but expressed confidence in her team during a press conference Wednesday. 

“[Harvard] is stingy. They don’t give up a lot of shots or corners,” Fuchs said. “But we’re a good counter-attack team. We need to take our free hits quickly, not worry about mistakes and get their defenders on the outsides in order to draw corners and get shots on their goalkeeper.”

Northwestern will look to feature various players on the attack, including Bente Baekers, Clara Roth and Maron Seidel, all of whom have netted 10 or more goals for the ‘Cats this year. Fuchs said that the depth of scoring talent gives her team a big advantage on Friday.

“They just can’t take out one player and stop us,” she said. “They need to take out six or seven.” 

If Northwestern wins, it will advance to the NCAA Championship for the first time in school history. The ‘Cats opponent will be either No. 5 Maryland or No. 9 Liberty, who play in the other semifinal on Friday. 

A finals appearance would be unprecedented for Northwestern during an unprecedented time. Marshall said that a victory in a year that has been so chaotic due to the pandemic would hold even more weight. 

“Being able to put it together this way would mean a lot, especially after COVID,” she said. “We’ve been in 20-hour weeks for the last year, so [a win] would just speak to all the hard work we’ve put in.”