It’s the quintessential question, from youth sports games to the professionals. How many points did they score?

But, ultimately, defense wins games, something Northwestern Field Hockey (18-1, 8-0 B1G) has proven to the tune of 18 straight. As the ’Cats head into NCAA tournament play, their biggest strength continues to be a simple, yet wildly effective, strategy: don’t let the other team score.

The ’Cats

While their goal-scoring is also impressive – they average 2.84 per game for a total of 54, tying them at 12th in the nation in that stat – Northwestern’s defense is out of this world. The ’Cats have shut out 12 teams this year, the latest being #5 Maryland (16-5, 6-2 B1G) in the B1G tournament championship game on Nov. 5.

Integral to Northwestern’s success on defense has been fourth-year goalkeeper Annabel Skubisz, who leads the nation with a save percentage of 87.5% and ranks 54th in saves per game. The Wildcat defense simply isn’t letting their opponents take shots on goal.

The ’Cats boast a scoring margin of 2.23, the highest in the country. Graduate students midfielder/forward Peyton Halsey and midfielder/backer Alia Marshall have been major forces behind that feat; Halsey leads the team in goals with 12 and Marshall in assists with 19.

Overall, Northwestern’s cast is star-studded. Including Halsey and Marshall, seven players were awarded All-Big Ten Team spots following the conference tournament.

The Competition

Northwestern will play their first tournament game at Lakeside Field on Nov. 10, against either California (12-7, 5-3 America East) or Miami Ohio (14-7, 6-1 MAC). Neither team is ranked in the top 25 and received automatic bids following victories in their respective conference tournaments.

While California has a strong offense – they rank second in the nation in goals per game with 3.26 – they have given up 33 goals this season to Northwestern’s 10. If the Wildcat defense is in typical unyielding form, the Golden Bears’ offense will be no match.

If the ’Cats reach the tournament quarterfinals, they will face either #10 Iowa (13-5, 4-4 B1G) or #9 Louisville (14-6, 3-3 ACC). Northwestern shut out then #3 Iowa on Oct. 6, holding the Hawkeyes to just four shots on goal compared to Northwestern’s 11.

Louisville handed the ’Cats their only loss of the year in the season opener on Aug. 27, a 1-0 defeat off of a penalty corner. Despite the loss, Northwestern dominated much of the game – the winning shot was Louisville’s only shot on goal the entire match, while the ’Cats had 10 in total. As the season has continued, the Cardinals have fallen behind the Wildcats in nearly every team stat recorded by the NCAA.

Victories in the first three rounds of tournament play will give Northwestern the chance to face #1 North Carolina (14-3, 5-1 ACC) for the first time since last year’s championship game when the Tar Heels bested the ’Cats 2-1. North Carolina is coached by former star forward Erin Matson, who is in her first season as head coach after graduating at the end of 2022. The Tar Heels are slightly stronger on offense, scoring 2.88 goals per game to Northwestern’s 2.84, but they haven’t yet faced Northwestern’s stellar defense.

The Conclusion

Time and again this season, the ’Cats have taken on some of the best offenses in the country and come away with the victory. With momentum from a win streak that stretches all the way back to Sept. 1 and a score to settle with the country’s #1 ranked team, Northwestern is poised to tear up the competition in true Wildcat fashion.

Thumbnail photo by Brandi Simpson/North by Northwestern