Wildcats ready for next-best shot at first victory

Amalie Benjamin

In the Northwestern men’s soccer match against Western Michigan, the stars of the game – freshman Mike Henry and sophomore Jeremy Cook – weren’t even recruited by the Wildcats.

Henry is one of six freshmen walk-ons currently on NU’s roster, some of whom have been seeing a lot of playing time lately.

“One of the things we talk about with this team is more athleticism,” coach Tim Lenahan said. “(Henry) does have the speed to give the other team a bit of a problem. It gives us a different look.”

In last Friday’s match, Henry narrowly missed giving the Cats (0-11-2, 0-5 Big Ten) their first victory in 32 games when his shot hit the post and bounced out of the goal.

But if it wasn’t for Henry’s initiative this summer, NU might not have even gotten that close to a win.

Henry wasn’t going to play soccer after he finished his high school career, but he changed his plans after being accepted to NU. He saw an opportunity to play on a Division I team with first-year coach Lenahan.

Henry contacted the coach and showed up at a summer camp held by the team for local kids. He was at NU for the summer attending the Minority in Engineering Opportunity Program.

Lenahan invited Henry back for the preseason to try out for the team. Three months later, he’s logging minutes in almost every game.

“He’s worked very hard,” Lenahan said of the player he calls NU’s fastest. “He’s determined and coachable and has improved with every coaching session.”

Henry is shocked at the amount of play he has seen at this point in his college career.

“I did not expect to play at all,” Henry said. “I figured I’d wait my turn.”

Henry has played in 10 of the Cats’ 13 games this season and has started two.

Cook, the other star of the Western Michigan game, was recruited off the club soccer team last season and played in three matches in 2000.

Lenahan has called Cook the team’s MVP and praises his fitness level.

“All game long he gives all he has,” Lenahan said.

Cook is one of three NU players to have started every match this season, along with Steve Jedlinski and Doug Gibson.

But Henry and Cook aren’t the only walk-ons who are now making an impact.

Victor Boni and Brett Grob also have improved greatly and are getting more playing time as a result, Lenahan said.

“Usually there are one or two (walk-ons) that make it through,” Lenahan said. “There’s a reason they’re walk-ons.”

Lenahan said he likes to have a big squad, something the Cats haven’t had in recent years.

“This way we can have a scrimmage without me having to suit up,” he said.

The other freshmen walk-ons, in addition to Henry, Boni and Grob, are Jon Grossman, Ben Kretzman and recent addition Colin Beazley.

NU – and all six freshmen walk-ons – will face a struggling Northern Illinois squad on Sunday in DeKalb, Ill.

The Huskies (3-10) have lost seven of their last eight matches and have scored only eight goals in their last 13 games. The Cats have scored seven goals this season.

Northern Illinois has given up 25 goals, while NU has allowed 27.

The Huskies face Wisconsin today at home in their last match before NU visits.

Despite the obvious chance for a win against Northern Illinois, Lenahan has decided not to go out on a limb, much like he did last week before the 2-1 loss to Western Michigan.

“No guarantees,” he said.