Women’s Soccer: Senior Night fails to stem Wildcats’ losing streak

Chris Johnson

Northwestern’s strong defense was only able to hold Michigan State scoreless for so long Saturday night, giving up two second half goals in a 2-0 loss.

The Wildcats hung tough with the Spartans in the first period, neutralizing two of the conference’s top 10 goalscorers in senior Laura Heyboer and junior Olivia Stander. Michigan State went into halftime with seven shots but failed to create any real opportunities.

“We knew that they had two really good forwards, so that was what we focused on all week,” senior defender Allison Schneeman said.

Although the Spartans controlled possession in the opening stanza, NU benefited from the counterattack. The Cats had the first true scoring opportunity of the game right before the half, when Michigan State senior goalkeeper Jill Flietstra made an impressive save on a shot from sophomore midfielder Julie Sierks.

The scoreless tie was broken less than five minutes after the intermission when Spartans senior Mikki Dennis ran free into the 18-yard box, striking a Heyboer cross past freshman goalkeeper Anna Cassell.

Michigan State freshman Hannah Peterson put the game out of reach 10 minutes later, taking advantage of another Heyboer assist for her fourth goal of the season. Coach Stephanie Foster said one of the main reasons for Michigan State’s second half breakthrough was a lack of aggression by the NU defense.

“When we’re in our half, we have to get much better pressure on the ball,” Foster said. “And the times that we didn’t (get pressure) was when they were able to create those opportunities.”

The Cats struggled after falling behind by two goals, failing to create any scoring chances for the remainder of the game.

It was a disappointing end for the eight NU seniors who played their last regular season match at Lakeside Field on Saturday. Although they have combined for just five goals this season, Foster said they have helped build the program in subtle ways.

“They’ve done a lot of the dirty work, a lot of the stuff that leads to wins that you don’t necessarily see show up on the field,” Foster said.

While Saturday’s loss marked the seniors’ last regular-season game at Lakeside Field, they will get the chance to defend their home field at least one more time, with the Big Ten Tournament coming to Evanston on Wednesday. Despite ending the season with four straight losses, NU is confident heading into the tournament, Schneeman said.

“We have the mentality that we’re 0-0-0 and now we have a fresh start,” Schneeman said. “We have a tournament to play next week, and we plan on getting three wins.”

The Cats will face the tournament’s top seed, No. 12 Penn State, Wednesday in their Big Ten Tournament opener. NU will be the underdog in Wednesday’s matchup, especially after falling 4-0 to the Nittany Lions earlier this season. But Foster said NU will be up to the challenge.

“Our players have bought in and I think everybody’s happy to be here,” said Foster. “This season just hasn’t gone the way we wanted, but we know we’re ready to go for the postseason.”

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