No. 2 Maryland field hockey will square off with No. 4 Northwestern in the 2022 Big Ten Tournament semifinals at Buckeye Varsity Field in Columbus, Ohio. The game is set for Friday at 4 p.m. on Big Ten Plus.
Despite a slow first quarter, the Terps’ (17-2) offense capitalized on three penalty corners to secure a 5-2 victory over Ohio State on Thursday. Maryland was led by graduate defender Riley Donnelly, who scored two goals in the contest. Junior defender Rayne Wright and graduate defender goalkeeper Christina Calandra made several key defensive plays to thwart scoring opportunities.
Northwestern defeated Rutgers, 2-1, in an overtime thriller in Thursday’s nightcap of the conference tournament. The Wildcats were unable to find the go-ahead goal in regulation despite their 23 shots recorded in four quarter. Just minutes into overtime, though, Northwestern’s aggressiveness on the offensive end earned a penalty stroke. Northwestern senior midfielder Peyton Halsey fired a quick shot into the cage for the game-winning score.
The Terps own the all-time series lead with a 19-11 advantage and defeated Northwestern 2-1 earlier this season.
The winner of this game will advance to the Big Ten Championship on Sunday at noon. Maryland will hope to advance to the conference’s championship game for the first time since 2019 while reigning national champion Northwestern is aiming to play in the conference title game for the first time since 2014.
In their last postseason meeting on Nov. 4, 2016, Maryland narrowly defeated Northwestern, 3-2, in overtime. The Terps would go on to win the Big Ten championship that season.
Now let’s look at the Northwestern Wildcats.
Northwestern Wildcats 16-3 (5-3 Big Ten)
2021 record: 18-5 (5-3 Big Ten)
Head coach Tracey Fuchs is in her 14th season on campus for the Northwestern Wildcats. She has amassed an impressive 192-97 record in her career leading the purple and white.
Last season, Fuchs led the program to its first national championship in school history. Fuchs has been a symbol of success in Evanston, Illinois as she recorded 13 of 14 winning seasons in her storied career. She became the latest player-turned-coach to win an NCAA title.
With Fuchs leading the charge, Northwestern is a perennial contender to win the national title. The Wildcats have a talented roster and their excellent coaching is capable of making the requisite adjustments to secure the victory.
She has ties to the Michigan as well, as she was an assistant coach on the Wolverines’ 2001 national championship team.
Similar to Maryland, Northwestern’s coaching staff is battle-tested for the big games in the Big Ten Tournament.
Players to know
Peyton Halsey, senior midfielder, No. 6 — Halsey is second on the team with 11 goals on the season. In Northwestern’s 2-1 overtime victory over Rutgers, Halsey scored the game-winning goal on a penalty stroke for the Wildcats. Her 45 shots are third for the defending national champions. She has also recorded four assists in her senior campaign. In their first-round victory, she filled the stat sheet with three shots on goal to go along with her aforementioned goal.
Bente Baekers, graduate forward, No. 3 — The 2022 All-Big Ten first team honoree led the conference with 22 goals in her final season for Northwestern. Baekers is the overwhelming conference leader in shots with 108. She recorded five shots and three shots on goal in the Wildcats’ first-round victory over Rutgers. The athletic forward is the key to Northwestern’s offensive engine, so it will be wise to monitor her whereabouts on the field. Yearning for scoring opportunities, Baekers will attack the opponent’s cage the entire evening.
Kayla Blas, graduate midfielder, No. 11 — The New York native is second in the Big Ten with 13 assists. The 2022 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year is proficient in using her quickness to stop opponents from contributing offensively. She is a key piece of a Northwestern defense that is fifth in the Big Ten with 1.2 goals relinquished per game. Her ability to distribute the ball and her defensive prowess adds a different dynamic to Northwestern.
Goals. Northwestern is third in the Big Ten with 2.9 goals per contest. Baekers creates instant offense for the Wildcats, evidenced by her Big Ten lead in goals (22) and shots (103). The Wildcats rely on Baekers’ ability to score in bunches, as their next closest goal scorer has 11 (Halsey). With Baekers’ electric scoring ability, Northwestern’s offense remains its strength.
Saves. The Wildcats’ 77 saves are good enough for fifth-best in the Big Ten. Northwestern’s 4.3 saves per game could use an increase, as a strong defense could provide more chances for a top-heavy offense. Its defense’s ability to force more turnovers would provide more chances for players other than Baekers to get in on the scoring.
Three things to watch
1. Can Maryland’s offense afford to get another slow start? In the Terps’ 5-2 first-round triumph over Ohio State, Maryland’s high-powered offense struggled to get out to a fast start. The Terps failed to convert on their mere three shots in the first quarter. Maryland’s offense is not short of talent, as four players on its roster have recorded at least 10 goals this season.
The Terps broke their cold streak in the second quarter on a goal by graduate midfielder Leah Crouse. Donnelly scored one of her two goals with two seconds remaining until halftime. Donnelly’s second goal off a penalty corner gave Maryland a lead it wouldn’t relinquish. With another tough matchup on the mend, Maryland will look to get out to a fast start, as it is a victory away from its first appearance in the Big Ten championship game since 2018.
2. Will the Terps’ defense continue to flash moments of dominance? Maryland’s defense has been strong all season long with excellent effort exerted by the entire roster. Maryland junior defender Rayne Wright continues to show why she is one of the best defensive players in the country. Wright’s agility was paramount Wednesday. In the first quarter versus Ohio State, Wright sprinted and positioned her body to prevent a penalty corner shot from entering the cage.
The Terps are afforded the luxury of having the interchangeable goalkeeping duo of senior goalkeeper Christina Calandra and sophomore Paige Kieft. Calandra got the start versus Ohio State and made several crucial saves. She consistently slid her feet and kept her hands active to thwart any shots from the cage.
3. What would a season sweep of Northwestern say about this Maryland team? Maryland defeated Northwestern on Oct. 2 at Lakeside Field in Evanston, Illinois. The Terps were already considered a contender, but a victory over the reigning national champion solidified them as title contenders. With a victory over Northwestern, Maryland would complete the season sweep of its Big Ten rival. The Terps’ record speaks for itself, but a pair of victories over a contender would speak volumes for the outcome of their season.