Women’s Soccer: Wildcats win second straight game on senior day

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Daily file photo

Northwestern midfielder Niki Sebo scored the lone goal of the game Sunday against Iowa. The win was the Wildcats’ second in a row, as they tripled their win total from the 2011 season.

Ariel Yong, Reporter

The Wildcats gave their three seniors something to remember on the last home game of their collegiate careers: back-to-back conference wins for the first time in three years.

Northwestern (6-10-2, 2-8-0 Big Ten) defeated Iowa (11-5-3, 2-5-3) 1-0 on Sunday, honoring senior midfielder Meredith Finsand and senior defenders Jessica Rubin and Bri Westlund in its last game of the season at Lakeside Field. The stands were crowded with family members and friends, who waved signs and snapped pictures as Finsand, Rubin and Westlund took the field for the last time.

“I think players are always replaceable,” coach Michael Moynihan said. “No matter how good they are, there’s always a new crop of talent coming in. But when you go through your four years, it’s the mark that you leave after four years that stays with the group. What can you leave behind (and) what have you done to help move things forward? And I think all three of them have been fantastic in that regard.”

Originally a class of seven, the three remaining seniors have remained with the team for all four years, persevering through two coaching changes and adapting to new styles of play. They boast 21 wins over the past four seasons to date but had not earned back-to-back Big Ten wins since their freshman year – until Sunday.

The Cats beat Illinois (8-7-2, 5-4-1) 2-1 in a dramatic comeback Thursday, scoring the winning goal in the last four seconds of the game on a penalty kick. This was all the momentum NU would need to snap its seven-game losing streak and chase after its second conference win of the season on Senior Night against Iowa.

“We had a lot more confidence this game,” junior forward Kate Allen said. “I think we’re starting to see that we can do it.”

The Cats had allowed their last four opponents to attempt more than eight shots on average in the first half, but they held the Hawkeyes to only 3 shots on goal in the opening frame. It wasn’t without a fight, however, as the Hawkeyes played a very physical game, recording 15 total fouls.

“They were definitely one of our more physical teams we’ve played,” Allen said, “but we battled through it, and I think that’s what helped us win.”

Despite a fairly even first half, the Cats came out fast in the second half, recording two close shots on goal within the first five minutes. Allen sent a strong free kick toward the goal that Iowa goalkeeper Hannah Clark saved. But Clark mishandled the ball, allowing sophomore midfielder Niki Sebo to take a shot within the box that sailed just wide of the left post. Sebo was given another chance in the 86th minute, when freshman defender Jennifer Korn crossed the ball from the left side. This time, Sebo put the ball in the back of the net off a header.

“We do this drill after every practice,” Sebo said. “We’re not allowed to leave unless we get at least seven headers in under two minutes, so I’m pretty sure (assistant coach) David (Nikolic) and Michael are pleased that I was able to finish.”

The win against the Hawkeyes marks the Cats’ second conference win, surpassing their total from last season. With their sixth win of the season, they have now tripled their win total from 2011.

“The feeling of winning is addictive, and the players are just hungry,” Moynihan said. “They’ve been working really hard and they want to see reward for that work that they’ve been putting in, whether it leads to a spot in the Big Ten tournament or just a ‘W.’ I don’t know that it really matters to them at this point. It just feels good.”