Northwestern ended last season with a bitter taste in its mouth, losing in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals to top-seeded Maryland in double overtime. But the Wildcats will have the chance to cleanse their palates this year, when the team faces six opponents who bested them in games last season.
However, NU will have to move forward without the seven seniors who graduated following last year’s tragic loss to the Terrapins. The Cats lose four seniors who started in all 21 matches last season, including second-team All-American back Lisa McCarthy.
McCarthy was a pivotal component in NU’s stifling defense, which held teams to an average of 1.52 goals per game — No. 15 in the nation in the category — and recorded six shutouts last season. But McCarthy, the team’s anchor, was also a major facilitator for the Cat’s offense. She finished with 13 assists last season and ranked No. 16 in the country in assists per game.
NU finished last season with the 11th highest-scoring offense and the 8th most assists per game in the NCAA. But the Cats’ offense centered on its ability to generate penalty corners, as the team averaged 9.38 per game and finished second in the country in the category. With the loss of McCarthy, NU will have to look for a replacement for the team’s top goal-feeder, and whoever takes on the role will have big shoes to fill.
Although the team is losing several critical players, the Cats will return their dynamic scoring tandem in senior midfielders Dominique Masters and Isabel Flens — two of just three seniors on the 2016 roster.
Masters finished as a top-10 scorer in the country, racking up 17 goals in 20 games. Flens, who was the No. 23 scorer in the nation last season, finished with just 1 less goal than Masters, as the two combined for 80 of NU’s 197 points and 33 of the team’s 68 goals. With one more season under the duo’s belt, Flens and Masters will look to continue to improve and carry the team’s offense through a taxing regular-season schedule that features nine of 19 games against teams that qualified for the NCAA Tournament.
But, thanks to strong recruiting, Flens and Masters won’t have to do it alone.
The Cats added seven of the nation’s most coveted recruits to the roster this year, making for a much younger team than last year’s. According to MAX Field Hockey, the team will be adding five ranked recruits and four in the top-50, including No. 9 forward Lakin Barry and No. 12 goalkeeper Caroline Hughes.
Coach Tracey Fuchs will have until Aug. 26 when NU takes on Boston University to stitch together a lineup that gets the most out of her young roster. But even with a largely new, fresh-faced team, the Cats will remain at the forefront of one of the strongest conferences in the NCAA.