Cats Chase The Upset Where It Counts (Women’s Soccer)

Matt Baker

By Matt BakerThe Daily Northwestern

Northwestern’s Oct. 22 game at Penn State was one that got away.

Up 1-0 with 20 minutes left, the Wildcats surrendered two goals in a 10-minute span to give the Nittany Lions their ninth-straight Big Ten title.

Though the Cats lost the match, NU coach Stephanie Erickson said the team’s effort two weeks ago shows NU (8-9-2, 4-5-1 Big Ten) can compete with No. 12 Penn State (12-3-3, 8-1-1) when the teams meet today for the first round of the Big Ten tournament.

“We put together 35 minutes of the best soccer we’ve played all season (against Penn State),”

Erickson said. “I know our team is

going to remember that and take some confidence from it.”

Had the Cats won their final regular season game at Wisconsin (7-8-3, 4-5-1), they would have entered the tournament as the fourth seed and earned a match against Indiana. But their 5-0 loss to the Badgers Sunday dropped them to the eighth seed and a game against the

conference champions on their home field.

Junior Kelly Sitkowski said though she was disappointed in the team’s ranking, she was proud the team earned a spot in the tournament after sitting out last year.

“It’s a huge accomplishment, especially since we went through so much last year,” Sitkowski said. “It just shows how hard we’ve been working this year.”

After finishing in the top five in the conference from 1996 to 1998, the NU has missed the Big Ten tournament five of the last eight years.

But senior Tori Bohannon said this year’s success and the new coaching staff have started a

foundation for the program to build upon.

“In the years where we didn’t make the tournament, it was because of our own mistakes and beating ourselves, and that hasn’t been a problem this year,” Bohannon said.

Though Erickson said the Cats reached one of their goals by making the postseason, they still have work to do.

“We do need to recognize that we did something this year that hasn’t been a consistent achievement in this program,” Erickson said. “But we can’t say that we’re just satisfied with that … It’s not about just getting there. It’s about being as competitive as possible in the Big Ten.”

But first NU has to get by the Nittany Lions.

Bohannon said her team knows it can compete physically with Penn State but must learn to improve its mental toughness to have a shot at winning.

“We need to play a full 90 minutes,”

Bohannon said. “We mentally let down for a couple of minutes last game, and that was all it took.”

Despite losing their last two conference games and landing at the eighth seed,

Bohannon said the Cats are going into the Big Ten tournament with confidence.

“It’s exciting to play a team that’s

expected to go far in the tournament,”

Bohannon said. “It’s always fun to go in as an underdog and win.”

Reach Matt Baker at [email protected]