Men’s Soccer: With Penn State looming, Northwestern looks to remain atop the Big Ten


Meghan White/Daily Senior Staffer

Forward Joey Calistri has made an impact in his first year on campus, leading NU's nine goal scorers with six tallies on the season. Penn State also has nine different goal scorers for the season.

Ava Wallace, Online Sports Editor

It’s an exciting weekend to be a Northwestern sports fan.

After the football team battles Nebraska on Saturday, No. 24 Northwestern will take the spotlight on Lakeside Field at noon on Sunday to face off against Big Ten rival Penn State.

The weekend match is also the Wildcats’ last home conference match. Before the game, NU will celebrate its six graduating seniors.

“It’s always a bit of an emotional day … it seems like yesterday this group was just coming in,” coach Tim Lenahan said. “They’ve been a great group in terms of their success on the field, but they’ve also been a great group of guys – just great leaders and great teammates for four years. You have to keep your emotions in check after those introductions, you know, wipe your eyes a little bit and gather yourself. Because then you’ve got a big game to play.”

Penn State (8-4-2, 2-1-1 Big Ten) currently stands third in the conference, just behind co-leaders No. 11 Indiana and NU (10-2-2, 3-0-0). In Big Ten play so far this season, Penn State has triumphed against Wisconsin and Michigan State.

Penn State suffered a tough 1-0 loss to Indiana in double overtime and tied Michigan 1-1, also after two extra play periods. 

But perhaps more impressively, three of Penn State’s four losses this season have come against teams currently ranked No. 11 or higher, with the exception being a 1-0 loss to Lehigh.

Penn State and NU have similarities in strategy that should keep the Cats on their toes throughout Sunday’s match. 

“They use a lot of players in their attack, it’s not just one guy we have to shut down,” Lenahan said. “They like to keep fresh energy up there and switch things around a lot, and we just have to be cognizant of those subs.”

Both the Cats and the Nittany Lions have nine different goal scorers so far this season. Freshman forward Joey Calistri leads NU with 6 goals for the season, narrowly edging Penn State’s top goal scorer Julian Cardona, who has 5.

Also similar to NU, Penn State has more luck finding the back of the net after halftime. The Nittany Lions have scored 7 of their 18 goals for the season before halftime, whereas the Cats have tallied 8 of their 22 total goals before the half. 

Penn State also brings a veteran team to Lakeside. About eight of the players in the Nittany Lions’ usual starting lineup are either juniors or seniors.

Lenahan said his team will need to match the strong mentality Penn State’s more experienced players will bring to the pitch.

“They have a lot of seniors who have been through the battles so certainly, we need to make sure we match the intensity,” Lenahan said. “Hopefully the better team wins and on that day, hopefully we’re the better team.”

NU is coming off of a dominant showing in a 1-0 victory against Loyola Chicago during which sophomore goalkeeper Tyler Miller was never forced to make a save. Miller and his defensive back line have perhaps been the Cats’ biggest and most consistent asset this season.

The Penn State game falls on a jam-packed weekend for the Cats. Sunday is the final day of NU’s Family Weekend and the match follows the team’s alumni game Friday and alumni tailgate Saturday.

“We’ll have our parents here for parents weekend and Nebraska’s in town for a sold out Ryan Stadium – it’s an amazing weekend for Northwestern athletics,” Lenahan said. “We’re going to try to do our part.”