Women’s Soccer: Wildcats down and out at Lakeside

Callie Counsellor

Although several of its youngest players shone on the bigger stage of the Big Ten Tournament, Northwestern couldn’t take advantage of their efforts, falling 3-0 in the quarterfinals Thursday.

While freshman goalkeeper Anna Cassell was only credited with three saves, she diffused several more Penn State opportunities in front of the goal. Midway through the first half, three Nittany Lions players swarmed around a loose ball in the Wildcats’ box but Cassell leapt over a Penn State player to knock the ball away, before getting back up and smothering it.

“She stepped up,” coach Stephanie Foster said. “She made some key saves. [She] came out and smothered some things in behind our defense. She did well. She’s going to be a very good goalkeeper for us.”

Sophomore forward Kate Allen also showed promise with two of NU’s four shots, including one on goal.

Solid performances by these young players were hardly enough to overcome a Penn State team that had won 11 straight games going into Wednesday’s match, including a 4-0 victory over the Cats on Sept. 23.

Early in the game, NU’s strategy of defensive pressure and quick counterattacks seemed to be effective. The Nittany Lions did not record a shot until nearly 20 minutes into the match.

Their first shot turned into their first goal, as a deflected free kick led to a Penn State corner kick, which freshman midfielder Emily Hurd served perfectly into the box. Freshman midfielder/forward Kori Chapic hammered the ball home to take the early lead.

Four minutes later, NU missed a header in its own box, which led to sophomore forward Maya Hayes, the NCAA leader in goals, volleying the ball in from eight yards out.

Already leading 2-0, Penn State junior midfielder Christine Nairn drilled a penalty kick just past the fingertips of Cassell for a three-goal cushion 20 minutes past the intermission.

Despite effective counterattacks, the Cats never responded with a goal of their own.

“The biggest challenge breaking through Penn State’s defense [was] our combinations,” Allen said. “Once we got our counterattacks going, they were really successful, we just didn’t finish.”

While sticking with the Tournament’s top-seeded team would be difficult at full strength, NU found itself at an even greater disadvantage when three of its players went down with injuries.

Early in the first half, senior forward Caroline Dagley required 16 stitches after bumping heads with Penn State defender Whitney Church.

“She gets to end her career knowing that she put everything out there,” Foster said. “We asked her to set the tone for competing tonight and if you leave with 16 stitches, I’m pretty sure you can say you did that.”

Freshman midfielder Georgia Waddle, who replaced Dagley, and junior defender Briana Westlund also left with injuries.

“We just got unlucky with three important injuries,” Foster said. “It’s just a typical Big Ten game.”

Despite the disappointing end to a disappointing season, the Cats will look to learn from the mistakes they made this year in order to achieve better results next year.

“Anytime you lose, there’s always something you can do better and something you can do differently,” Cassell said. “The season has always been about growing and improving, personally and as a team. It’s just going to have to be a continuation of that. Every day get better, every season get better, and hopefully the results will show that next year.”

With the win, Penn State advances to the semifinals to take on Minnesota, which defeated Wisconsin 2-0 after NU and Penn State cleared the field.

In other quarterfinal action from Lakeside Field, Michigan State beat Iowa 0-0 (4-3) in penalty kicks. That will set the Spartans up against Illinois, which defeated Ohio State 1-1 (4-2) in another game decided by penalty kicks.

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