The presidential race between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon is one of the most famous in United States history. The two candidates battled it out in the first-ever televised presidential debates and canvassing on the campaign trail. Kennedy narrowly defeated Nixon by a popular vote margin of just 117,000 people in one of the closest races the country had ever seen.
Like Kennedy, Northwestern knows what it’s like to win close. They’ve played in six overtime games this season, including back-to-back wins over #21 Ohio State (11-8, 3-5 B1G) and #6 Michigan (14-5, 5-3 B1G), and have won five of those games. The Wildcats have beaten four of the seven B1G teams ranked in the top 25, but their four losses come against ranked B1G teams. The #3 Northwestern Wildcats (17-4, 5-3 B1G) look to rebound from a Big Ten tournament loss to eventual champs #4 Michigan in the NCAA Tournament. The B1G is a tough division to compete in, but the Wildcats will face even tougher competition in national play as they look to defend their title.
Players to Watch
If they are going to handle business in tournament play, they’ll have to rely on the nation’s fifth-leading scorer, fifth-year forward Bente Baekers. Baekers already has a conference-leading 22 goals and three game-winners this season. Fellow fifth-year defensive backer/midfielder Kayla Blas is 12th in the country in assists per game and leads the Wildcats in assists, making her an excellent partner in crime. Both will be sorely missed when they graduate, but until then, they’re giving their opponents hell.
Junior midfielder Lauren Wadas will rob you blind and then juke your ankles off on the way to score. Her two defensive saves are good for eighth in the conference, and she had the clutch game-winner in double overtime against Michigan on October 21.
Rounding out the scoring threats is senior midfielder Peyton Halsey. She is the team’s second-leading scorer thanks to her late-game heroics against #6 Penn State (15-3, 7-1 B1G) on September 30. Halsey scored both the game-tying and game-winning overtime goal while also having a hat trick.
On the defensive side, senior goalkeeper Annabel Skubisz is 14th in the nation in save percentage, stopping nearly everything that comes her way. Her peak performance came when she had five saves in less than a minute against Ohio State on October 16.
The Wildcats started the season off very strong, winning their first eight games before losing to #5 Iowa (11-7, 4-4 B1G). In between an overtime win versus Penn State and a three-game win streak including the aforementioned consecutive overtime wins, Northwestern also dropped close games to #4 Maryland (17-3, 7-1 B1G) and #23 Rutgers (8-10, 3-5 B1G).
In the Big Ten Tournament, Northwestern exorcised demons by beating #18 Rutgers and #2 Maryland in consecutive games, both by a score of 2-1. They would go on to face #6 Michigan in the championship just two weeks after their double-overtime thriller, but came up short of the B1G Tournament crown by a score of 1-2.
Despite a few stumbling blocks, the ’Cats have shown that losses can’t slow them down. With the tied-most wins in the nation and the fifth-best winning percentage, the Wildcats are staring down a two-seed in the NCAA tournament; they'll host their first tournament game at Lakeside Field this weekend.
Their huge wins overshadow those four tough losses, and they don’t plan on losing again.
Northwestern has the tools to go far in the NCAA Tournament and avenge some losses along the way if they face #4 Michigan or #10 Iowa. They play ferocious defense, have the best player on the planet on offense, and are stout in the goal. The Wildcats outscore their opponents by nearly three goals to one. Any team that faces the ’Cats had better watch out. After all, Northwestern has already beaten 12, count ’em, 12 ranked opponents. What’s a few more?