Women’s soccer: After sluggish start, Cats coast against Oakland

Nina Mandell

It took “a couple of choice words” from its team leaders, but the Northwestern women’s soccer team pulled out a 5-1 win over Oakland on Saturday in Oakland, Mich.

The Wildcats (10-7-2) came out sluggish in the first half, but senior Ashleigh Garmon notched her sixth goal of the season when she blasted a pass from Katie Gunderson into the net in the 12th minute.

NU held the lead for most of the first half, but Oakland (8-11-0) tied things up right before halftime.

NU coach Jenny Haigh said the score didn’t reflect the team’s uninspired first-half play.

Still, Haigh said she couldn’t take credit for the re-energized team that took the field in the second half.

“Some of our captains and upperclassmen had some choice words for the team,” she said. “They handled it amongst themselves.”

Haigh said she didn’t know what the players talked about at halftime, but it worked. The Cats won for the first time since Oct. 17 against Purdue.

It took less than three minutes for NU to take the lead when an Oakland player accidentally kicked the ball into her own goal.

Tabitha Lowey increased the lead to two goals when she rebounded her own shot less than six minutes into the half.

Freshman Kelsey Hans netted the Cats’ final two goals of the match, increasing her total to 15 and breaking NU’s single-season record for goals in a season.

She eclipsed the 14-goal record set in 1996 by Stephanie Erikson, who is now an NU assistant coach.

“(Hans is) an important force for our front line,” Haigh said. “She keeps getting better and better, and I’m happy to see her break that record. It’s an exciting feat, especially for a freshman.”

Hans said she did not expect to set the record, but that was before she struck twice in the second half.

She scored the first goal early in the half, but it took her until the last four minutes of the game to get another one past Oakland to put herself into NU’s record books.

Hans credited teammate Stephanie Krutsch with keeping her motivated throughout the match.

“I was really happy,” Hans said. “It’s been one of my goals since the beginning of the season.”

Hans said while she was pleased about the win and the record, she wants to see quality soccer from the team in postseason play.

“The level (in the first half) was unacceptable,” Hans said. “It’s not going to be OK to play like that in the Big Ten Tournament.”

Despite struggling to play consistently throughout the season, the victory over Oakland finished off one of the Cats’ most successful regular seasons in school history with 10 wins — the most since 1998.

It also marked the first time since 1998 that the team will finish the season with a winning record. No matter how NU fares in the postseason, it will finish up above .500.

But Haigh said while she was happy after Saturday’s victory, she hopes the team will build off this season’s success and collect more wins in future seasons.

Haigh said the win was important for the Cats to gain momentum entering the Big Ten Tournament. The Cats face Illinois in the opening round on Thursday in Columbus, Ohio.

“I think it gave us confidence,” Haigh said. “Its always good to finish those chances and put numbers up on the scoreboard.”

Reach Nina Mandell at [email protected]