Field Hockey: 10-4, (4-1 B1G)
Northwestern field hockey’s tremendous run of form finally came to end this week with two close road losses. The No. 6 team in the nation had won eight straight games, winning by three or more goals in five of them, before dropping two close contests this week to sink its record to 10-4.
Friday’s opponent, Indiana, touts some impressive offense but some mediocre defense. Kate Barber is tied for the Big Ten conference lead with 15 goals, but goaltender Noelle Rother saves 71 percent of the shots she faces, sixth-best in the league. Things were a bit different Friday. The Hoosiers (7-7, 2-2 B1G) struck first 18 minutes in through Ciara Girouard’s fourth goal of the season, but Northwestern responded just over minutes later when Pascale Massey found Lily Katzman for the freshman’s second goal of the season. With the score level at halftime, it wasn’t Barber who found the cage 14 minutes after the restart. Instead, it was Nora Aucker, scoring her first goal of the campaign, who gave the Hoosiers a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Northwestern held a 20-11 advantage in shots and an 8-3 lead in penalty corners, but Rother’s ten saves were enough to power the Hoosiers to a 2-1 win, their first victory over a ranked team this season.
The Wildcats had a tough time handling the Hoosiers on Friday, but they faced an even tougher task on Sunday when they headed to Kentucky to clash with the No. 8 Louisville Cardinals. The Cards’ defense is among the best in the nation, led by goaltender Ayeisha McFerran’s ridiculous 0.74 goals against average and .818 save percentage, both of which are tops in the country as of October 6. Louisville scored in the seventh minute Sunday when Nicole Woods redirected a centering pass for her third goal of the year. With 16 minutes to play, the Cardinals scored again as Taylor Stone potted her fourth goal off of penalty corner. A normally-ferocious Northwestern attack that is third in the Big Ten with 18.23 shots per game managed only four on Sunday. Only two of them reached McFerran, who held her goal for a 2-0 shutout win, the first time the Wildcats have failed to score this season.
Northwestern has a chance to rebound from their first losing streak of the season with a winnable home game with Rutgers on Friday. The ‘Cats then have a week off before they host Iowa on Friday, Oct. 14.
Volleyball: 7-11, (0-6 B1G)
It’s been a long couple of weeks for Northwestern volleyball. They haven’t won a match in over three weeks. They haven’t won a set in two and a half. And with the second-hardest schedule in the country, the tough times might only be just beginning. As it stands, two more straight sets losses this week drops Northwestern’s record to 7-11, and extends its losing streak to seven.
In-state rival and 24th-ranked Illinois (11-5, 4-1 B1G) is one of the best blocking teams in the nation, and the Wildcats had no answer for the front court presence of the Illini – Northwestern managed just an .034 hitting percentage while the Illini tallied eight team blocks in a comprehensive 25-18, 25-13, 25-18 sweep. Illinois hit a ridiculous .481 in the first set and .311 in the match, and dished out seven aces, much better than their season average of just over an ace per set. Five different Illini recorded at least six kills, while Northwestern star outside hitter was held to just eight, the first time she’s failed to reach double-digit kills in a match this season. Libero Katie Kniep was a late scratch due to a back injury, and hitter Rafae Strobos filled in admirably, notching a team-high 12 digs.
The Minnesota Golden Gophers were ranked first in the AVCA poll this week for the first time since 2004, and they looked the part Sunday, rebounding from a five-set loss to fellow conference power Penn State in the midweek. Northwestern played well at times, especially in the second set, but it wasn’t nearly enough to knock off a loaded Minnesota team (13-2, 5-1 B1G) with championship aspirations in a 25-17, 25-21, 25-21 decision. The Gophers hit over .400 in sets one and three and .322 for the match while limiting Northwestern to a .172 clip behind nine team blocks. The Wildcats terminated much better than they did against Illinois as five players recorded at least five kills. The Gophers, however, did that too, and monstrous performances from Sarah Wilhite (14 kills, three aces, nine digs) and Hannah Tapp (13 kills, 3.5 total blocks) were more than enough to push Minnesota back into the win column.
The quest for a conference win before the final match of the season will continue Wednesday when the ‘Cats return home to host No. 23 Michigan, before heading down south for a rematch with Illinois on Saturday.