Cats snatch first Big Ten win, fall short of sweep

Nicholas Collins

The Northwestern women’s soccer team entered last weekend with the goal of evening its 0-2 Big Ten record with a pair of road wins at Iowa and Illinois.

The Wildcats (3-5-1, 1-3 Big Ten) managed to fight through the wet slop and stingy Hawkeye defense in the first leg of their trip to keep the hope of a two-win weekend alive.

But Illinois (5-5, 1-2 Big Ten) quickly dashed NU’s hopes of a .500 conference record with a 3-1 win in Champaign.

The Cats’ 1-0 victory on Friday over Iowa (5-4, 0-3) was their first conference win and marked the end of a three-game slide.

“We’ve been working hard and played some really great non-conference competition, so we had a good preparation,” NU head coach Jenny Haigh said. “It’s reassuring to know that, yes, the wins will come when we do the things we can do.”

In early Big Ten action, NU struggled to string together two solid halves, but Friday the Cats showed progress.

“The whole team came out really hard and battled for 90 minutes,” senior defender Kelli Wilson said. “That’s what Jenny (Haigh) always asked of us, and this time we were able to do it.”

NU extended its scoring streak to five games when sophomore forward Ashleigh Garmon put in her team-leading fifth goal during the 57th minute.

“I was very glad that I was able to capitalize when I was given the chance,” Garmon said. “A few times we haven’t capitalized, and that’s hurt us a lot.”

While the Cats made netting goals a habit in the past few games, it was their inability to stop the opposition that kept NU from tallying any points in the standings.

Haigh opted for a change in goal in hopes of stopping the bleeding. NU had allowed two or more goals in each of its last three games.

Annie Helm made her first collegiate start as a goalkeeper and stopped five Hawkeye shots for the shutout.

“Annie was very steady in her first game,” Haigh said. “She’s quick and courageous back there. She made some good decisions and I was happy with her performance.”

Haigh said Helm had been neck-and-neck with senior goalie Susie McCreery all year in practice and had earned the opportunity to prove herself in a game.

With her opening-game shutout, Helm also garnered the start against Illinois on Sunday. But the team didn’t have the same energy before the game.

“In warm-up and right before the game, we didn’t have the same liveliness — we were a lot quieter,” Garmon said. “We got on the field and it definitely showed.”

The result was a 3-1 loss. Helm’s second start did not go as smoothly — she faced 17 shots and made seven saves.

“She did well, we just gave up a lot in front of her,” said Haigh, who added that Helm likely will be the starter Friday at Purdue.

The Fighting Illini struck early, scoring a breakaway goal in the 16th minute. Illinois added two more goals before NU midfielder Carolyn Hack scored in the waning minutes off a pass from midfielder Aileen Guiney.

The Cats were able to keep pressure on the Illini defense throughout the game, putting 17 shots on goal and forcing Illinois goalkeeper Rachel Frank to make five saves.

The loss to rival Illinois left the Cats seeking a solution to their slow-start problems.

“It was disappointing how we came out and approached the game,” Wilson said. “They came out wanting to win, we didn’t. We want to be the best team in Illinois, Big Ten aside, and it was upsetting we didn’t come ready to prove that.”