Men’s Soccer: Cats clinch crown in Ann Arbor

Dan Ryan

Northwestern has certainly developed a flair for the dramatic.

With the Big Ten regular season title on the line against Michigan (5-13-1, 1-5-0 Big Ten) and only seven minutes left in regulation, junior midfielder Chris Ritter took a cross from sophomore forward Reed Losee and scored the most important goal of the Wildcats’ season, securing the first such title in program history.

After Indiana defeated Ohio State 1-0 earlier in the day, NU (10-4-4, 4-0-2) stood a victory away from the title, a fact the Cats were very much aware of during the contest.

“Everyone was watching it on GameTracker,” Ritter said.

Playing without their leading goal-scorer, senior Oliver Kupe, who had to sit after earning his fifth yellow card against the Hoosiers, the Cats still created chances in the first half. NU mustered seven shots and three corner kicks but was unable to convert for a score.

“There was a lot on the line, so everyone was maybe a little nervous,” Ritter said. “We probably had the better game, created the better chances, but they were definitely dangerous offensively at times.”

After registering only three shots in the first period, Michigan came out more aggressively in the second frame.

“There was a stretch in the second half where Michigan was able to put a few things together, but we weathered their storm,” coach Tim Lenahan said.

The Cats continued creating good looks on offense until Ritter buried his shot in the back of the net at the 83:09 mark, sending the team on its way to one of the most important victories in program history. As soon as the final whistle sounded, the NU bench helped lead a frenzied celebration, storming the field and creating a dog pile on the pitch.

“It was pretty exciting,” Ritter said. “Very exciting. I didn’t play my best game up until that point, but I got my one chance and I scored it.”

With the Big Ten trophy in tow, Lenahan was quick to spread credit for the program’s success.

“There’s a lot of guys who put a lot of time into making this program what it is,” Lenahan said. “Guys from 30 years ago and guys from the last 10 years that all went into making this happen. This is a big win for anybody who’s worn a Northwestern soccer jersey. This is a championship for the entire program.”

The win also pushed NU’s regular season unbeaten streak to nine games and marked the third conference game in a row in which the Cats scored in the final 15 minutes to earn a win or tie, a striking reversal of fortune after the team lost each of its first three games of the season in the waning minutes.

The Cats’ regular season title earns them the top seed in this week’s Big Ten Tournament in Ann Arbor, Mich. The team will play the winner of Wednesday’s match between No. 4 Indiana and No. 5 Michigan State on Friday.

Ritter said that no matter the matchup, the road to the title will be tough.

“Indiana is probably the better team. They have the better players. But we played Michigan State close also,” Ritter said. “We’re going to have to play good teams no matter what. So we’ll be ready for either team.”

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