Cats young and old anchor solid ‘D’ (Women’s soccer)

Teddy Kider

With a performance on Sunday that helped earn senior sweeper Molly Greene Big Ten co-Defensive Player of the Week honors, the Northwestern women’s soccer team’s defense proved that it can be among the best in the conference.

After allowing six goals in early-season losses to Kansas and Missouri, the backfield has surrendered just five goals in its last seven games, including only one goal in NU’s current three-game winning streak.

NU will take its improved defense on the road this weekend, with games against Minnesota (4-4-1, 1-3 Big Ten) on Friday and Wisconsin (5-5-1, 1-3) on Sunday. Both the Golden Gophers and the Badgers are coming off road losses to Michigan and Michigan State.

According to coach Jenny Haigh, Greene, a two-time All-Big Ten selection, continues to make it tough for anyone to score on NU’s defense.

“(Greene) is a tremendous athlete, but more importantly, she’s just a tremendous competitor,” Haigh said. “Every time she steps on the field, she takes it personally. She takes every matchup or every battle personally. She’s just hard to beat because of how she competes, and that’s special.”

On the opposite end of the age spectrum, NU’s defense recently welcomed freshman goalkeeper Whitney Jones, a 17-year-old who graduated after just three years of high school but has started every game this season.

“We knew coming in that Whitney had a lot of talent and a lot of athleticism. She has played a lot of soccer at a very high level already,” Haigh said. “So it’s just sort of a matter of seeing if she could put all of those pieces together in our program right from the start, and she did.”

Jones has already recorded four shutouts this season, including a 1-0 victory over Michigan on Sept. 21 that was NU’s first win against the Wolverines since 1998.

“I knew that we were a young team coming into it, and I felt confident in the team to help me get used to the play and everything. From day one, they’ve helped me adjust,” said Jones.

Also new to the defense this year is freshman Tori Bohannon, a walk-on who has significantly contributed to the defense’s recent success.

But with seniors and newcomers alike, perhaps the most important defensive off-season addition is that of assistant coach Nel Fettig, who returned to NU after a one-year stint as an assistant coach in 1998.

Fettig brings both collegiate and professional experience. After winning three NCAA titles as a player at North Carolina, she earned three W-League Defender of the Year awards and a spot in the 2002 WUSA all-star game.

“It’s great, because she’s definitely a seasoned player,” said Greene. “She’s been great at breaking things down for us and showing us where we’re making mistakes and where we need to be better.”

With new and old players joining a returning defensive coach, on-field experience greatly contributed to NU’s backfield improvement.

“I think just gaining experience, both with each other and in game situations as the season has gone on, has really been beneficial to them,” said Haigh.

With a 6-3 (2-1 Big Ten) record and already two more wins than in all of last season, the Wildcats have high hopes for the remainder of the season.

“We’re a competitive team and I think we’ll do anything to get the job done,” Greene said.

“Sometimes, in the past, when maybe we would have been a goal down, we might not have pushed as hard to fight back. This team definitely does that, and I just think that we’re very competitive and we want to win.”

“We are hoping to get an NCAA bid this year. That’s, I think, a realistic goal for us,” Haigh said. “We definitely want to finish in the top half of the Big Ten, secure a spot in the Big Ten tournament and do well in the tournament.”