Northwestern sophomore forward Bente Baekers looks for a lane during the Wildcats 2-1 victory over Iowa on April 17. Baekers, who scored three goals in two games against the Hawkeyes, was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week for her efforts. Photo by Brandi Simpson / North by Northwestern

One of the best traditions in sports is a “hat trick.” When an individual player manages to score three goals in a game, the fans in attendance toss their hats onto the playing surface, causing a delay in play and, in most cases, a surplus of hats for the scorer. It’s an unbelievable display that will certainly be celebrated once fans are fully allowed back in the arenas for sports.

While Northwestern field hockey (5-3 B1G) did not see a hat trick in an individual game in their weekend series against No. 2 Iowa (5-3 B1G), they did see a fantastic performance from sophomore forward Bente Baekers, who scored three goals over two games to lift the ’Cats over the Hawkeyes, by scores of 2-1 and 1-0. The wins were critical for Northwestern, as they locked up a No. 3 spot in the upcoming Big Ten Field Hockey Tournament and got more attention as postseason talks began, sitting at number five in the latest National Field Hockey Coaches’ Association poll.

Despite Baekers’ incredible individual performance that won her the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week Award, the games were more defined by great team play from Northwestern, with an incredible passing scheme that outplayed the potent Iowa defense. The Hawkeyes, who currently sit at first in the Big Ten with just 0.42 goals allowed on average, were simply outperformed in their own zone by the ’Cats, who worked and chipped away to gain an advantage over their opponent.

Sophomore midfielder Alia Marshall goes for the pass against Iowa. A fantastic passing scheme was key to Northwestern's success, as the 'Cats beat the top scoring defense in the Big Ten in both games. Photo by Brandi Simpson / North by Northwestern

The first game, played on April 15, started rough for the ’Cats, as they were outshot 4-3 in the first half, including a 2-0 run in the first quarter. This quick dominance by Iowa allowed them to go up 1-0 early in the match on a nice flat shot from sophomore midfielder Esme Gibson.

The ’Cats refused to go down without a fight, however, and quickly began pushing back into the Iowa zone with a few great chances on net. After fighting off an Iowa chance, Northwestern first-year midfielder Lauren Wadas saw an opportunity in transition, fired a long stretch pass to Baekers in the opposing zone, and the sophomore forward did not miss her shot, firing a laser over the glove of Iowa junior goaltender Grace McGuire to tie up the game at halftime.

Northwestern came out of the gate swinging, and it was the Wadas-Baekers connection that kept the ’Cats clicking, as Wadas pickpocketed the Iowa transition for a turnover and flipped it over to Baekers, who faked out McGuire and shot the ball in the five-hole to put Northwestern up 2-1.

From there, it became a defensive stand for the ’Cats, as they endured four second-half penalty corners. A penalty corner is a key offensive play in which after the opposing defense commits an offense – such as kicking the ball or a misplay against a defender – that does not likely prohibit a goal. It allows the offense to set up around the zone to get a key scoring shot. Northwestern, however, did not allow much to happen on these corners and stood tall for the rest of the second-half, including two huge saves from first year goalkeeper Annabel Skubisz. Weathering the storm, the ’Cats won the first game of the series 2-1.

Northwestern huddles up before a penalty corner. Despite not converting on many chances, the 'Cats were still able to overpower Iowa in many arenas in their two victories. Photo by Brandi Simpson / North by Northwestern

In the second installment of the series on April 17, Northwestern and Iowa played a much closer game, almost matching each other in every major category, including shots (10 apiece), saves (Iowa 4, Northwestern 6) and penalty corners (Iowa 5, Northwestern 4). Despite this, another fantastic goal from Baekers put the ’Cats over the top.

The game started with a bang, as both teams came out at top speed to try to earn an advantage. Both teams fired shots on net, but neither McGuire nor Northwestern’s senior goalkeeper Florien Marcussen gave up the opportunity, despite both teams having three corner plays each. When the dust settled at the end of the first half, the score remained knotted at zero, with Marcussen holding an edge in the saves department, making four to McGuire’s three.

Northwestern forces a scrum in front of the Iowa net but are unable to beat Iowa's Grace McGuire. Baekers would score the only goal in this matchup, a nice shot from a tight angle. Photo by Brandi Simpson / North by Northwestern

Northwestern, however, was not satisfied with this even pace, and began pushing hard in the third quarter, taking four shots to Iowa’s one. While the ’Cats were running circles around Iowa with terrific passing schemes, it would be another fantastic effort from Baekers that gave Northwestern the advantage. Baekers, defending an Iowa transition, picked off a pass from the defender, maneuvered around the defense and fired a backhand shot that just barely made it past McGuire, on a highlight reel play that truly highlighted her skill:

Iowa, desperate to win the game, pulled out all the stops following the goal, outshooting the Wildcats 4-1 in the final frame. Northwestern, however, once again weathered the storm, and were able to come away with another huge win, beating the Hawkeyes 1-0 and cementing themselves as a possible postseason contender.

The stars of this series were obviously Baekers, who scored all of the 'Cats' three goals, in addition to Wadas, who assisted on the two goals of the first game. The Northwestern goalie team of Marcussen and Skubisz also came up big, saving all but one of Iowa's 11 shots on net over the series.

Northwestern will play tomorrow in the Big Ten Tournament against Rutgers (5-3 B1G) as a No. 3 seed and look to secure a bid in the NCAA Field Hockey Tournament. With Baekers on a hot streak and a fantastic defense behind her, there’s no denying that this will be a fun run to watch.

Onto the postseason. Photo by Brandi Simpson / North by Northwestern