Final Four Frenzy: Northwestern outlasts Harvard
By Logan Schiciano
The magic continues for Northwestern field hockey. The ‘Cats are moving on to the NCAA championship after edging out Harvard 2-1 in overtime Friday.
Northwestern opened the scoring early when Maren Seidel converted on a corner opportunity toward the end of the first quarter. However, the team’s advantage did not stand for long as Harvard’s Hannah Pearce answered off a Crimson penalty corner less than a minute later.
The ‘Cats had a great chance to regain the lead midway through the second period when Bente Baekers lined up for a penalty stroke opposite Harvard Goalie Ellie Shabho. Baekers was successful on two previous penalty attempts this season but fired this one off the left mitt of Shabho – one of her six saves on the day.
The Crimson team entered the game with the best defense in the nation, allowing only seven goals all season before the semifinal. It stood firm against Northwestern’s prolific offense, which unleashed ten shots in the game.
Both teams had their chances as regulation wound down but would walk off the pitch knotted at one goal apiece after 60 minutes.
Entering Friday, the Crimson had a strong record in games that reached overtime or penalty shootouts, going 5-1 this year. Northwestern had not been as successful, going 0-3 in such contests.
Yet, history was irrelevant Friday in Ann Arbor, as Northwestern drew an early corner after sophomore Maddie Zimmer was fouled inside the shooting circle. Off the set-piece, Clara Roth inserted, and Baekers sent a low drive past the reach of Shahbo and into the left corner of the cage.
The goal came just two minutes into the first overtime period. Head Coach Tracy Fuchs explained how her squad was able to reset so quickly.
“Our message was really to just take care of the ball and drive the outside,” she said. “That’s exactly how Maddie drew the corner, and I’m really happy that Bente was able to put that home. I know she’s going to feel a lot better tonight.”
After Baekers goal, the entire ‘Cats squad proceeded to storm the field, celebrating the team’s first-ever trip to the championship game.
For the seniors on the team, like Kayla Blas, this moment vindicates the steady improvement the team has made over the past few years. When Blas was a freshman, the ‘Cats missed out on the NCAA tournament, but have advanced a step further every year since.
“To be able to compete for a national championship with my best friends is beyond exciting,” Blas said. “I’m so proud of how we’ve developed over the past year. We’re such a tight-knit group, and it’s going to take all 28 of us to win on Sunday.”
Northwestern will match up with the Liberty Flames in the final on Sunday at 1 p.m. CST. The Flames knocked off Maryland in the first semifinal game Friday 3-2 in overtime. It will be a clash of the two of the strongest offenses in the NCAA – Liberty and Northwestern were first and second, respectively, in goals scored this year.
After facing a defensive powerhouse in Harvard Friday, Coach Fuchs said the team will need to shift gears quickly for Sunday’s contest.
“I expect them to come out storming, but I expect us to come out storming too. It may be a 6-5 game, but as long as purple is on top, I’ll be happy,” Fuchs said.