Welcome home, field hockey. Welcome home.
Northwestern had several successful road trips to start the season and found some balanced scoring in major upsets over Cal and Stanford and Duke in the early part of the schedule. The Wildcats returned home at 8-1 and the No. 10 team in the country. It feels at this early stage in the season that the Wildcats could be in for their first NCAA Field Hockey Tournament bid since 1994 (it should be noted that the field hockey tournament is a 16-team field).
There is a long way to go before that. A loooong way to go.
Thre is a very good sign emerging from the Wildcats this time around however. Unlike last season, where NU finished 11-9, 3-3 in the Big Ten and ranked 25th by votes in the NFHCA Top-20 poll. The Wildcats started this year at No. 20 and have steadily climbed.
A big reason for that is the emergence of junior Tara Puffenberger.
Puffenberger had another strong outing for Northwestern, scoring four goals in an 8-0 win over Ball State on Saturday. It was the second four-goal game by a Northwestern player that week as Chelsea Armstrong had four goals at Wake Forest last Tuesday.
I know when I have talked about field hockey, I often point to the goal disparity. Armstrong is a machine when it comes to putting up points and getting the ball into the back of the net. She already has 13 goals on the season. But Puffenberger, who transferred from Virginia, is right behind her.
The four goals against Ball State brought Puffenberger’s season tally to 10 goals this year. Together, Puffenberger and Armstrong account for 23 of Northwestern’s 36 goals. And a strong defense that has given up 10 goals in nine games is putting the Wildcats in position for a fantastic season.
Jim Phillips: I am sure LTP will have more on this during the week, but it has not received enough ink/text/carpal tunnel syndrome as it deserves on this blog. Jim Phillips, thank you for working so diligently the last two years-plus to get the first phase of the Northwestern facilities expansion approved. Pat Fitzgerald called the expansion of SPAC and the addition of a new on-campus practice facility a “game changer” for the football program and all of Northwestern athletics. I was especially thrilled to hear that the plans will bring an expansion to student athletic facilities for the general student body and will provide a worthy home to host Dance Marathon potentially. There was certainly a lot of hand-wringing about finally getting something onto paper with this. We are glad and excited to see it finally approved. When do we put the shovels into the ground?
Madalyn Shalter, Volleyball: Another weekend, another tournament victory for Northwestern. The Wildcats swept through the Wildcat Classic, losing only one set in three matches. Shalter set (see the pun?) some history of her own. Shalter was named the Big Ten’s Setter of the Week for the second straight time, becoming the first player in Big Ten history to accomplish that feat. Shalter averaged 11.40 assists per set in the three-game tournament, posting 45 assists in the final against Western Michigan on Sunday. Shalter leads the Big Ten with 11.93 assists per set this year as the Wildcats head into Big Ten play this week.
Jeff Budzien, Football: Northwestern is not a school that takes its kicking game lightly. We have seen too much heartbreak on missed extra points, let along missed field goals, in the last few years. So feeling good about consistency from Jeff Budzien is a comforting, if not unfamiliar, feeling. Budzien tied Joel Howells’ school record with five field goal makes, ensuring Northwestern got at least three points on those long drives deep into Boston College territory. Without him, the Wildcats certainly would have been in very big trouble.