NU looks to exact revenge

Nina Mandell

They’ve already secured a spot in the Big Ten tournament, a winning record and the respect of top-ranked teams. But senior Ashleigh Garmon said the Wildcats (9-6-1, 5-4) wouldn’t rest until they proved to rival Illinois (11-4-1, 5-3-1) that they’re a better team than in the past.

After finishing up its conference season today, the Northwestern women’s soccer team will travel to Illinois State on Sunday.

But the Cats have all eyes on Friday’s matchup.

“Illinois is our rival,” Garmon said. “As with any rival, you want to take it to them, so we also are really interested in showing them we’re not the team we were last year, and that we want to end the season right — with a win.”

The Cats lost their chance for a trip to the Big Ten tournament last year when they were humiliated by Illinois, losing 4-0 in their last conference match of the season.

“It will be a good game,” Schneeman said. “We definitely want revenge.”

The Fighting Illini have to deal with a much different team this year. The Cats are winding up a regular season that is the most successful they’ve seen during coach Jenny Haigh’s four years at NU.

While the team finished in ninth place in the Big Ten last year with only three wins, it will finish at least within the top six this season with at least five conference wins.

Still, NU has more than pride to gain from this weekend’s last home match. A win over Illinois would put the Cats in fourth place in the Big Ten, making them the favorite in their first round game in the postseason tournament.

The players couldn’t agree on one thing that has been the biggest factor in their turnaround from last season.

Sophomore Shannon Schneeman points to a good freshman class, while senior Anne Helm credits a newfound team unity and positive attitude for the team’s success.

“We’re really upbeat and confident in ourselves,” Helm said. “I think people are having more fun than in the past.”

Players said nothing could be more fun than continuing to be successful enough get a bid to the NCAA tournament. NU has not made the tournament since 1998, when it lost in the round of 16 to Florida, which went on to become national champion.

The Cats are confident that winning their last three games against Illinois, Illinois State and Oakland, which they play on the road Oct. 30, would give them a good chance at receiving an NCAA tournament bid.

“Knowing that a win against Illinois would give us strong potential to making it into the NCAAs is a huge way to keep us focused,” Helm said.

While NU players constantly talk about the future, they said they are concentrating most on Friday’s game so they can work toward ending their season well.

Reach Nina Mandell at [email protected].