With a second-straight Big Ten loss to No. 13 Northwestern on Saturday, the window for earning a share of the Big Ten regular season championship closed for the field hockey team (8-9 overall, 3-2 Big Ten).
The somewhat unlikely 3-0 start to conference play won’t amount to Big Ten honors. But with one Big Ten game left, the regular season is approaching its end.
The team now has its sights set firmly on winning the last game against Iowa, and then proceeding to win the Big Ten Tournament.
Sixteen teams enter the NCAA Tournament, with eight teams receiving bids through winning conference championships and the remaining eight receiving at-large bids.
At this point, a Big Ten Tournament win is the team’s best shot at entering the NCAA Tournament. MSU’s 3-2 conference record is third-best in the Big Ten (after Penn State and Northwestern, respectively). But the 8-9 overall record trails every Big Ten team except Ohio State, who’s 5-11 record is last in the conference.
Head coach Helen Knull believes a talented conference could make entry through an at-large bid difficult.
“For us, at this point, in terms of postseason, realistically we have to win the tournament to make it,” Knull said. “To get in at-large, just with the strength of the conference right now. It’s going to be really hard to get in at large. Tournament is where we’re going to really focus our energy and look to finish.”
The last two losses show that though MSU has proven itself as a player in the conference, the team hasn’t quite reached the next level of play.
MSU had an identical 3-0 conference record to Penn State two weekends ago, who they fell to in double-overtime. MSU and Northwestern were both 3-1 going into Saturday’s match.
Last Saturday, the Spartans couldn’t convert on shot attempts, which cost them down the stretch.
Those were two opportunities for the Spartans to make a statement against higher-ranked competition, and twice they fell short.
However, there is something to be said about taking Penn State to two overtimes, as a few unlucky breaks ultimately cost them the game.
As the Big Ten Tournament approaches, the team has its sights set on defeating Iowa. From there, they can reestablish themselves as a team that isn’t to be taken lightly.
“We’ve proven to ourselves we can play with anyone in the Big Ten,” said Knull. “We need to practice next week and get ready for Iowa, and get ready for Big Ten tournament. But it’s going to be key to keep focus and keep believing.”
Senior midfielder Kristen Henn’s college career is winding down. The next week will determine how she, along with the rest of the graduating class, finish their time at MSU.
“We’ve all said all year you want to leave without the feeling of leaving any regrets,” Henn said. “That goes for the seniors and down for the freshman to the end of season. We have a big game coming up against Iowa, they’re a great team and we have a good week of practice to get there and look towards it.”