Women’s soccer: Westlund refuses to miss minute in Minnesota

Jonah L. Rosenblum

Freshman Briana Westlund is two months into her collegiate career, and she has played every single minute for the Wildcats. But the next 90 will be particularly special – the Cottage Grove, Minn., native is returning home to play the Golden Gophers.

“It’s actually my hometown’s day at the game, so I’m going to see a lot of people,” Westlund said. “I’m super-excited and pumped, and I just want to crush the Gophers.”

Westlund has been the constant presence at center back the Cats have been looking for, anchoring a Northwestern defense that has given up two goals in its last 350-plus minutes of play.

“I think any freshman who comes in and plays every minute is clearly having a big impact,” coach Stephanie Erickson said. “We’ve kind of been missing that true center back, the one who is a great organizer but also athletic enough to play the position well, and she’s all that. She’s a very complete player.”

As the center back, Westlund has to be a leader on the field. She has earned the respect of her fellow defenders even though they are almost all older than her.

“I think it’s hard for a freshman to come in and try to lead your back line, but she’s got people around her who are willing to listen,” Erickson said. “They respect her talent and her ability, and I’m sure having (senior defender Ali Rubnitz) and (junior goalkeeper Carolyn Edwards) behind her has been very helpful.”

Northwestern (6-8-2, 3-3-1 Big Ten) will need another strong defensive performance against Minnesota’s potent attack. The Golden Gophers (10-5-3, 3-3-2) are among the Big Ten leaders in corners, shots and goals.

One of the keys to stopping Minnesota’s offense will be clamping down on Katie Bethke. The junior forward leads the Gophers and the Big Ten with 11 goals.

“She’s a very mature player,” assistant coach Danielle Slaton said. “She’s very opportunistic. She’s a goal-scorer. She wants her team to do well, and she is willing to do the things she needs to do in order to make that happen.”

NU is coming into this game with momentum from a dramatic 2-1 overtime win at Iowa. The Cats’ 2008 schedule took them on the same road trip. They began with a 3-2 overtime win at Iowa, before losing 2-0 at Minnesota on two second-half goals. NU hopes for a better result against the Gophers this year.

“We just had a hard time getting anything going in that game,” Erickson said. “We also played Friday and Sunday last year. This year, we have a week in between games. I’d like to think that will help us with our legs because we’re going to play a team that’s super high-pressure. They throw everything at you.”

NU will have to be ready for difficult conditions on the field. The Weather Channel predicts rain all day on Friday. The wetness will be combined with gusting 20 miles per hour winds and temperatures that may drop into the low 40s.

The harsh weather will increase the importance of strong fundamentals on defense.”It makes us hone in and focus on details even more, because when the field is wet, weird bounces can happen,” Slaton said. “It’s even more important for us to defend together, cover for each other, get bodies behind the ball, so nothing silly or stupid happens.”

No amount of rain, wind or cold will prevent Westlund from spearheading this defensive effort against Minnesota.

“It’s a testament to her maturity that she can be a freshman center back and play every minute for us,” Slaton said. “We’re very lucky to have her, and we’re excited that we’ll have her for three more years.”

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