Lighting the field for revenge (WOMENS SOCCER)

Pritish Behuria

The Badgers have a way of crushing Northwestern’s hopes leading up to the Big Ten Tournament.

In 2005, Wisconsin ended Northwestern’s hopes of qualifying for the Big Ten Tournament on the final day of the regular season. Last year, the Badgers hammered the Wildcats 5-0, which caused the Cats to plummet from sixth to eighth in the Big Ten standings. The match led to NU facing Top-seeded Penn State, which beat the Cats 3-2 in the first round.

Today, NU will hope history doesn’t repeat itself as they take on the Badgers in the final game of the regular season.

“This has turned out to be a crucial game for the program over the last few years,” coach Stephanie Erickson said. “Last year was incredibly disappointing for everyone involved, and we’re looking forward to taking them on (Friday).”

NU’s 2006 Big Ten record stood at 4-5-1; this year, the Cats are 3-4-2.

NU is currently seventh in the standings, and the Cats will have to beat the Badgers to ensure an improvement on last year’s eighth place.

“We’re definitely an improved team from last year,” Erickson said. “We had a tough start to the Big Ten schedule and we didn’t manage to close out some games, but we’ve had more confidence as the season has gone on.”

The Cats have been in good form in the run up to the final match of the regular season, losing only two of their last seven matches.

They have only conceded four goals during that period.

Erickson arrived two years ago, after a year in which NU failed to qualify for the Big Ten Tournament. Ever since, the Cats have qualified for the tournament.

“She’s put a big emphasis on team chemistry and instilled a winning attitude in the team,” senior Danielle Iordanou said. “We set goals before the season, and before every match and we try to obtain them.”

For Erickson, it’s been a steep learning curve during the season, and she’s managed to turn around the team’s fortunes since conceding nine goals in the first weekend of the Big Ten season. Since then, the Cats have allowed a miserly four goals.

Erickson said the coaching staff has managed to concentrate on coaching soccer more this season as opposed to last year, when they were concentrating on things like work rate and teamwork.

The Cats will face a difficult first match in the Big Ten Tournament against either Penn State or Purdue, depending on this weekend’s results.

“To feel confident going up against those teams is really important, and that makes (today’s) match really important to us,” Erickson said. “We’ll go into the Big Ten feeling we can win it all, and I think we can.”

The Wisconsin match will also be the team’s senior night, as well as its first match under lights at Lakeside Field.

“It’s a really important game for us,” senior midfielder Kelly Sitkowski said. “It’ll be the first time we’re playing under the lights, and it’ll be senior night, so it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Reach Pritish Behuria at [email protected]