Victories clinch Big Ten tourney berth

Nina Mandell

Northwestern women’s soccer forward Ashleigh Garmon has missed out on the last two Big Ten Tournaments.

So when the senior saw the ball bouncing in front of the Indiana goal Friday, Garmon slammed it into the back of the net for a 1-0 overtime victory against the visiting Hoosiers (8-5-1,

3-4-1 Big Ten).

And after Wisconsin defeated Michigan State on Friday night, the Wildcats could celebrate their first trip to the eight-team Big Ten Tournament since 2001.

Although they’d already met one of their biggest goals this season, the Cats (8-6-1, 5-4) didn’t falter Sunday, beating Purdue 2-1.

The win gave the Cats a winning record and rearranged the Big Ten standings, moving NU ahead of Indiana into the top half of the conference.

“It felt amazing,” Garmon said. “I knew this was do-or-die. We were trying to get to the Big Ten Tournament so badly. I’ve waited three years for this and I knew we couldn’t let any more winnable games pass us by. When I saw it go in, I was like one step closer.”

Although NU’s offense couldn’t capitalize on several scoring opportunities, goalie Whitney Jones made some big saves against Indiana, sending the Cats into overtime for the seventh time this season.

With Indiana ranked just above the Cats at the start of the weekend, NU coach Jenny Haigh said it was one of the most evenly played matches she had seen all season.

“I thought it was a good game, that’s a good Big Ten soccer game right there,” Haigh said. “(It was) dramatic, down to the last minute. I think both teams had chances to win the game…I feel fortunate that we did. We played tough all 90 minutes, and I’m proud of their effort.”

Haigh said she had seen the high level of play the Cats showed Friday at times during the season, but the Indiana game was one of the first times the Cats maintained that level.

“We’ve definitely seen we’re capable of (the way we played),” Haigh said. “We just have to find that magic formula to bring our best everyday and today we did.”

NU had a little trouble duplicating its magic Sunday and trailed Purdue 1-0 at halftime.

But with an NCAA Tournament bid and Big Ten Tournament seedings on their mind, the Cats came out strong in the second half.

Garmon fired a shot from 25 yards out into the upper corner to tie the game in the 51st minute. It was her second goal in three days.

It appeared the Cats were headed to another overtime until Tabitha Lowey delivered. Lowey looped the ball around the Purdue goalie to give NU a 2-1 edge with seven minutes left.

Purdue pulled out all the tricks after falling behind, including switching its goalies in and out of the game to stop the clock.

The Boilermakers’ best chance at forcing overtime came when a shot sailed just wide of the net about a minute after Lowey’s goal.

“I wasn’t really concentrated on how much time was left,” Lowey said. “It was just me and the goal, and I was relieved to get one in.”

Reach Nina Mandell at [email protected].