Historic field hockey season ends with somber defeat in title game
Defense wins championships is a common saying in football, and it translated to field hockey Nov. 21 as Northwestern shut out Liberty to secure its first field hockey national championship in program history.
Liberty and Northwestern faced off in the NCAA Division I Field Hockey Championship; neither program had ever won the championship before Sunday.
After a scoreless first half, Northwestern’s two goals in the third quarter proved to be the difference.
Liberty attacked from the first second on the game, winning a penalty corner after just a minute of play. The Lady Flames kept up a high-octane offense, pinning the Northwestern deep it its territory.
The Lady Flames generated three penalty corners in the first period, but Northwestern goalie Annabel Skubisz and the Wildcats’ defense held strong, keeping Liberty off the board.
Early in the second quarter things seemed to be going Liberty’s way again, but defender Ashley Dykema-Pereira’s foul resulted in a penalty stroke.
Northwestern’s Bente Baekers sent a shot straight at the goal, and with goalkeeper Azul Irixity-Irigoyen diving to her right, she flicked her leg up to make a spectacular clearance, in what the commentators described as “potentially the save of the season.”
Six penalty corners occurred in the second quarter, and while Liberty nearly scored off its second, Northwestern’s four corners had the Lady Flames reeling.
Ultimately however, the first half ended scoreless, largely due to incredible play in both cages.
In the third quarter, the Lady Flames’ high-octane offense had simmered down, and Northwestern took advantage on the counterattack. On the Wildcats’ seventh penalty corner of the game, Alia Marshall was able deflect a shot past Irixity-Irigoyen for Northwestern’s first goal.
Late in the third, Northwestern counterattacked and with seconds to go in the quarter, Maddie Zimmer doubled the Wildcats’ lead.
Liberty struggled to deal with the Wildcat counter press, which prevented the team from taking a shot for the entire third quarter.
In the fourth, coach Nikki Parsley-Blocker made the decision to pull Irixity-Irigoyen to get an extra outfield player on the field.
Shortly after, a green card on midfielder negated that one player advantage for two minutes, meaning the teams had the same number of players on the field, but Liberty had no goalie.
Defender Bethany Dykema finally got Liberty’s first shot of the second half, but her effort did not find the back of the cage.
Northwestern finished out the game, chewing the clock and quickly squashing Flames attacks before they presented any danger.
After the game, Nikki Parsley-Blocker reflected on what people should take away from the season.
“I know we didn’t win the national championship but to even make it here is incredible,” Parsley-Blocker said. “And certainly, we want to win, we don’t just want to get here, but you have to get here sometimes before you win it. I hope Lord willing we’re back, but I just am going to always remember it as the first time we were here with a really special group of student athletes.”
The loss marked the first time the Lady Flames were shutout in a game since its loss to Virginia Oct. 28, 2019.
While deflating, this season will still go down in the history books for the Lady Flames, with several major accomplishments contributing to the most successful season in program history:
- UConn’s nine season Big East title reign came to an end when the Lady Flames dispatched them in the final of the Big East Field Hockey Championship, securing Liberty’s first conference championship in the Big East.
- Liberty won 4-0 against UNC in Chapel Hill. The loss was UNC’s first defeat at home since 2014. North Carolina had won the last three national championships prior to this year.
- The Lady Flames also went 10-3 against top-25 teams, with two of those losses coming to Northwestern.
Liberty finishes the season 20-3, and the Lady Flames will look to come back strong in the Fall.
Luke Randle is the Sports Editor. Follow him on Twitter @lukerandle02