Cats snap streak as midfield breaks out (Women’s Soccer)

Teddy Kider

In order to upset then-No. 14 Purdue (9-3-3, 5-2-2 Big Ten) in West Lafayette, Ind., somebody on the Northwestern women’s soccer team (7-7-1, 3-5-1) had to step up.

Fortunately for the Wildcats, four young players did just that. NU’s midfield dominated the pace of play in the Cats’ game against Purdue, keeping the Boilermakers’ offense far from NU’s net for more than 75 minutes.

The result was a 2-1 victory for the Cats, and a game in which NU goalkeeper Whitney Jones had no saves, a surprising statistic for a team whose defenders and goalkeeper have been kept busy all season. The midfield’s breakout performance came at exactly the right time, helping to snap a four-game streak without a victory and giving the Cats a crucial win to stay in the hunt for postseason play.

“I think the main thing was our mental attitude,” freshman midfielder Shannon Schneeman said. “Coming into the game, all of us were really pumped to take it to ’em. Purdue’s a great team in the Big Ten. It was an awesome win for us, and mental attitude goes into controlling the game by winning air-balls and being strong in the midfield. They were a pretty rough team, and we stood up to them.”

Except for senior leader Aileen Guiney, NU’s starting four at midfield are a young squad, made up of two sophomores and one freshman. Naturally, adjustments have been made throughout the season.

“At first, of course, we had some people in, trying to figure out who fit where,” Schneeman said. “I played outside a little bit in the beginning, and we moved Carolyn Hack back to defense. So, then I played center midfield, and it has worked really well.

“Being young, it took us awhile to get used to each other, I think. But we all eventually melded.”

Coach Jenny Haigh feels that, at this point in the season, NU midfielders have found the

right balance on the field and have learned how to complement each other.

“Tabi(tha) Lowey just really keeps coming on,” Haigh said. “She’s got a really good attacking personality. Julie (Lipinski) is a really good two-way player, and if there’s a more dangerous attacking player on the other team, we put Julie on that side, so it’s nice to have that versatility.”

“Shannon (Schneeman) is just great, really composed on the ball. She helps us at the point of attack. And then Ai(leen Guiney) just continues to help our offense in scoring points.”

NU’s midfield will face another big test on Friday when the Cats take on No. 15 Illinois (10-3-2, 6-1-2) in Champaign, Ill.

“They’ll have a lot of responsibility,” Haigh said. “We’re going to need our midfield to provide a lot of pressure defensively so we can really minimize the opportunities for Illinois. We’re also going to need our midfielders to get forward. They’re really going to have to help out on the attack and just cover a lot of space.”

The Cats need a win in this game, their final conference matchup of the season, in order to have any shot at moving on to the Big Ten tournament. If NU pulls outs the win and the game between Michigan (5-5-6, 3-2-4) and Michigan State (9-6, 4-5) does not end in a tie, the Cats will see some postseason action.

With NU facing a must-win situation and an Illinois goalkeeper, Leisha Alcia, coming off her second Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week award of the season, the Cats’ midfielders will need to focus more on attacking the goal.

“Defense is always important, but with Illinois, we definitely have to win, so offense is going to be really important,” Lowey said. “Our focus is going to be getting in and getting shots off.”