Women’s Soccer: Northwestern still searching for first Big Ten win

Ariel Yong, Reporter

With only three games left to play in the regular season, the Wildcats are running out of opportunities to get their first Big Ten win.

Northwestern (4-10-2, 0-8-0 Big Ten) faces in-state rival Illinois (7-6-2, 4-3-1) Thursday night to cap off a three-game road trip.

After only three days of preparation, the Cats have their work cut out for them in Champaign. The Fighting Illini rank 5th in the Big Ten and also boast junior midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo, the Big Ten leader in shots per game with 6.62 a contest. She also ranks in the top 10 for average goals per game.

“She is an exceptional player,” coach Michael Moynihan said. “She was on the World Cup team (and is) a good goal scoring threat. She’s somebody we’ll have to contend with.”

However, Minnesota shut out DiBernardo and the Fighting Illini 3-0 last Friday, while NU managed to keep the Gophers well below their scoring average in a 1-0 loss. The Cats held Minnesota to only three shots in the second half and sophomore goalkeeper Anna Cassell  recorded three saves. The Cats have stepped up their game by challenging opponents in the first half, as they have allowed only 3 total goals in the first 45 minutes of the last six games. NU’s struggles this season have come in the second half. The team has dropped conference games to Purdue, Indiana, and Minnesota, all by a score of 1-0. More concerning: each decisive goal came in the final 20 minutes of play.

“We’re so close,” Moynihan said. “We’re one decision away from generating another 10 good quality decisions. Our decision making in the final third is something we have to get better at. We’re going to continue with that until we get it right.”

On the offensive end, the Cats showed some spark over the weekend, scoring their first goal since Sept. 21. Junior forward Bo Podkopacz ended the team’s four-game scoring drought with a goal against Wisconsin, the second of her career. Despite dropping both contests to Wisconsin and Minnesota, the Cats have improved on offense, as they recorded 14 total shots in the two games. They just can’t seem to put the ball in the back of the net.

“I think we’re just unlucky around the goal,” sophomore midfielder Niki Sebo said. “If my shot (against Wisconsin) was just a little lower, it would’ve been a goal. (But) I think it’s good that we’re getting close and in the box and getting chances.”

The Fighting Illini are on a two-game skid and have allowed eight opponent goals in the last three games. NU will try to find a way to convert those close chances into goals while containing DiBernardo, something senior defender Bri Westlund said the team is more than capable of doing.

“We need to come out ready to win,” Westlund said. “I think that we are good enough and capable of beating them so I think we need to come out hard. She (DiBernardo) is a very good player but as long as we keep our foot down (and) don’t let her control the game, we’ll be fine.”