No. 2 Northwestern (9-0, 9-0 Big Ten) will face No. 19 Ohio State (3-7, 3-7 Big Ten) on Thursday, a repeat of the Wildcats’ season-opener in February. The matchup, scheduled on Monday, will replace the Cats’ postponed game against Michigan.
NU delivered a dominant performance during its Feb. 14 game against Ohio State, winning 23-7 behind nine goals from junior attacker Izzy Scane and six goals from senior attacker Lauren Gilbert. Scane’s nine goals tied the Cats’ then-single game goal record — which she went on to break by scoring ten goals against Rutgers on March 19.
The purple-and-white also dominated off the draw, winning 19 to Ohio State’s 11. Coach Kelly Amonte Hiller was especially impressed with NU’s draw performance following the season-opener, and said she thought the Cats did a great job on the circle, particularly in the first half when the team won 13 draws to Ohio State’s two.
Since its last matchup against the Buckeyes, NU has rolled through the Big Ten. The Cats have since defeated every conference team at least once except for Michigan, who they have yet to play due to COVID-19 issues within the Wolverines’ program.
NU has won nine straight games for their best start since 2012 — the last year they won a national championship — and clinched the Big Ten regular season title for the first time in program history.
Graduate student attacker Sammy Mueller said clinching the regular season title was an “awesome accomplishment” that will only further motivate the team to succeed in the postseason.
The Cats have seen success on the national level, too. NU opened the season ranked No. 5 and rose to No. 2, their highest ranking of the season, in this week’s IWLCA coaches’ poll following former No. 2 Syracuse’s loss to No. 1 UNC last weekend. Scane leads the country in goals per game, averaging 6.22 a contest, and Gilbert is close behind, ranked third with an average of 4.78 goals. NU also has the top scoring offense in the country with an average of 20.78 goals per game.
Gilbert said the Cats’ No. 2 ranking is exciting, especially since it is their highest rank since she has played for the team. However, she said rankings can change at any time, so she and the team are working to “keep improving and take things one day at a time.”
“As a leader of this team, I’m really proud of the sacrifices everyone’s making to get us to this point,” Gilbert said. “What we’re doing isn’t easy, and my team this year is a special group.”
The Buckeyes have had an uneven season so far, dropping out of the top 25 for three straight weeks during March and only winning three games. However, all three wins came over top 10-ranked teams. Graduate student attacker Liza Hernandez, who put up four goals against the Cats in February, leads the team with 26 goals this season.
Scane leads NU with 56 goals and Gilbert is close behind her with 43. Just as in February, the duo will likely pose a serious challenge to Ohio State’s defense. To stop the Cats’ top ranked offense, Buckeyes graduate student goalkeeper Jillian Rizzo — who only made two saves during the season-opener — will need to come up big.
According to Gilbert, the Buckeyes have “grown a lot as a team” since the season-opener. As a result, she appreciated having more time to prepare before playing them again.
“What makes (this game) a really cool opportunity is that it’s something different than these past few series we’ve been playing in terms of it’s not a 48-hour turnaround,” Gilbert said. “We have time to study how they improved and I’m sure they’re studying us.”
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