Poor start dooms NU in Round 1

Nina Mandell

It’s probably going to be long winter for the Northwestern women’s soccer team. The fifth-seeded Wildcats were slammed 5-0 in the first round of the Big Ten tournament by fourth-seeded Illinois, a team they tied just two weeks ago.

Coach Jenny Haigh blamed “uninspiring play” in the first half and a tough Illinois squad for the Cats’ dismal showing in their first appearance in the Big Ten tournament in three years.

“It’s hard to be disappointed about a loss that we never really got plugged in the game for,” Haigh said. “(The whole game) passed us by.”

Haigh said the faltering first-half play was a result of “bad soccer decisions” and bad luck in general. Illinois scored its first goal as a result of a miscommunication between the defense and goalkeeper Whitney Jones.

The Fighting Illini dominated the match, outshooting NU 21-10 and picking up six more corner kicks than the Cats. But down 2-0 at halftime, NU players said they still thought they could come out on top.

“We knew that Illinois was not two goals better than us,” Jones said. “We knew that we had come back so many times this year, and we knew we could have.”

But the toughest stretch for the Cats came when Illinois doubled its 2-0 lead with two goals in the 65th minute, putting the game out of reach for even the most optimistic team. In the 75th minute, the Illini added insult to injury with their fifth and final goal.

“We’ve been a much better second-half team all year,” Haigh said. “But in the end, I think Illinois handily outplayed us.”

The Cats did have some chances to get on the scoreboard, Haigh said. They hit the crossbar twice and the goalpost twice but could not save themselves from being shut out.

It wasn’t the first time NU has struggled in the first half. The team ended eight games in overtime this season, most of which were NU comebacks after the Cats began matches with what Haigh once called “a confusion over starting times.” The players have been able to pick things up in the second half, but they have said throughout the year that one half isn’t enough to win the tough games.

“We felt a little bit better about our effort and productivity (in the second half),” Haigh said. “But we didn’t come up with the goals when we had the chances.”

Jones, who was named second-team All-Big Ten, kept the team from a double-digit loss with five saves in the match.

Players said the loss was even harder to take because it most likely will end the season for the Cats, who are not expected to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.

It also marks the end of the college careers of the team’s six seniors. NU is losing a large part of its defensive line, a midfielder and one of its leading scorers. After the loss, Haigh said she encouraged the team to focus on the seniors.

“We spent most of the time after the game giving them support and hugs,” Haigh said. “Although we all feel bad about losing, our seniors are moving on.”

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NU 0

Illinois 5