Northwestern’s Field Hockey MVP: Bente Baekers
By Logan Schiciano
Northwestern reached the National Championship for the second straight season in 2022 and though they lost the game in heartbreaking fashion, Bente Baekers solidified her spot amongst the greatest players in Northwestern field hockey history and earned WNUR Sports Team MVP honors.
In her final season in purple and white, Baekers led the Wildcats in goals (25) and points (58) by wide margins. She was also tied for the team lead in game-winning goals (4).
The fifth year got off to a record-setting start, scoring a career-high four goals in the season opener against Maine. Baekers followed that up with two scores against UMass Amherst, becoming the first Wildcat to score six goals through the team’s first two games since at least 1999.
On a quest to chase down Chelsea Armstrong’s record for most goals in a single season (29), Baekers recorded multi-goal performances against a trio of squads from Virginia: Liberty, Richmond and University of Virginia.
While it was unrealistic to expect the Dutch native to maintain this pace through Big Ten play, she did reach a number of key milestones during the conference slate.
In a Wildcat victory over Michigan State on October 14, Baekers scored her 80th career goal, becoming the second player in program history and fifth player in Big Ten history to reach that milestone. She also became the first player in the country to score 20 goals in 2022 with a goal two days later against Ohio State. However, her name was kept off the score sheet in the Big Ten Tournament, and Northwestern fell to Michigan for the second straight year.
Where Baekers truly made her mark in 2022, and throughout her career, was on penalty corners. With arguably one of the hardest shots in NCAA field hockey, she converted a number of times in the postseason and propelled the ‘Cats to the final.
After a first round scare against Miami (OH), Northwestern was in a defensive battle with Iowa in round two. The ‘Cats mustered just three shots over the first three periods, which is why an early fourth quarter goal to put the Hawkeyes up 1-0 felt like a potentially fatal blow. But just three minutes after Iowa’s Leah Zellner scored, Baekers put away a corner, tying the score. The ‘Cats went on to win in a shootout.
In the national semifinal, Baekers gave the ‘Cats arguably their most memorable moment of the year. It was another sluggish game on offense for Tracey Fuchs’ squad, but when Northwestern drew a penalty corner with just over 10 minutes remaining, the crowd in Storrs, Connecticut sensed something big was about to happen. With the game scoreless, Baekers stepped up and snipped a shot inside the near post to give the ‘Cats the lead – one they would not lose.
Perhaps the most improbable of all her penalty corner goals came in her final career game, against undefeated North Carolina. The Tar Heels had not allowed an inch to Northwestern for most of the game – the ‘Cats didn’t record their first shot until the fourth quarter. Still, UNC only led 1-0 in the final moments of the championship game.
With two minutes left in the season, the ‘Cats drew their first corner of the game and Baekers delivered one final time, leveling the score. Unfortunately for Northwestern, Tar Heel legend and now-coach Erin Matson responded with the game-winning goal just 30 seconds later, sending the ‘Cats home as runners up.
While Baekers’ final goal was not as storybook as Matson’s, she left a lasting impact on the program. Leading the ‘Cats to their first-ever National Championship victory in 2021 and returning to the final one year later certainly would not have been possible without the power and precision of Baekers on the offensive end.