Men’s Soccer: Wildcats ‘still control own destiny’ with two conference games left


Meghan White/Daily Senior Staffer

Northwestern midfielder Chris Ritter and the Wildcats can still win the Big Ten Championship despite dropping their last two games. NU fell in extra time to Penn State and Northern Illinois.

Ava Wallace, Online Sports Editor

After Wednesday night’s loss to Northern Illinois, Northwestern is under new leadership: the team’s veteran players.

Coach Tim Lenahan set high expectations for NU’s (10-4-2, 3-1-0 Big Ten) seniors, juniors and certain sophomore players and is taking a step back on the sideline for the team’s last two conference games of the season, the first of which is on the road against Wisconsin (6-7-3, 1-3-0) on Sunday.

Lenahan took extra time at the end of the Northern Illinois match to speak specifically with the team’s senior leaders: forward Chris Ritter, midfielder Kyle Schickel and defender Jarrett Baughman.

“Sixteen games in, the coach has to turn over ownership a little bit,” Lenahan said. “I told the veteran group that we’ve been through a lot together, they’ve been great and they train hard every day. But there’s a difference between training hard and really putting everything into it.”

If it is the seniors the Wildcats are depending on for a win in Madison, they may be in luck.

As a class, NU’s seniors have won two of the teams’ past three match-ups with Wisconsin. The last time the Badgers triumphed against the Cats was in 2009, the current seniors’ freshman season.  Wisconsin has struggled this season and ranks second-to-last in conference standings.

But this year’s seniors have undoubtedly contributed more to the team than a good history against Wisconsin. Combined, the six seniors have tallied 27 of NU’s 68 total points and 9 of the team’s 22 goals this season.

Ritter is the team’s second-highest scorer with 5 goals this season and is in second place for most points in the conference with 15 total. Although Lenahan stressed the need to improve comprehensive playmaking – meaning shooting in addition to efficient passing and making smart passes – Ritter said the team also needs to focus on improving a season-long weakness: finishing.

“We just need to put the ball in the back of the net,” Ritter said. “It’s (the captains’) team and we need to take responsibility for the results.”

Ritter and the three other seniors who see substantial playing time – Schickel, Baughman and midfielder Nick Gendron – have been crucial members of team since their freshman year. In 2011 Ritter was named Second-Team All-Big Ten.

Wisconsin’s only noteworthy Big Ten win this season was a 2-1 victory against Michigan. The Badgers lost to Michigan State, Indiana and Penn State.

But Wisconsin does boast a home-field advantage for the season, as four of the team’s wins have come on their own turf. The Badgers also have 12 different goal scorers this season, which Lenahan said is a big advantage for teams.

Lenahan said his goal for the season was to have 10 different scorers, which makes it a challenge for opposing defenses to zero-in and shut down on one player. With two games remaining, the team has nine different scorers. This balance has helped the Cats, who rank second in the Big Ten in goals scored.

Comparisons aside, Lenahan is primarily focusing on his team heading into the final games of the season and is looking ahead to the Big Ten Tournament, which NU hosts this year.

Lenahan continues to stress his mantra for the season.

“We still control our own destiny,” he said. “We have two games in front of us on the road. Not only should you have courage, but you have to, or you can’t survive – this is gut check time. Two games in a row we’ve lost, and this is the time that we’re going to find out whether we’re a good team or not.”