No. 8 Northwestern (13-6, 6-2 Big Ten) fell to No. 5 Penn State (14-4, 5-3) 2-1 Friday but won Sunday’s Senior Day game against Kent State (8-10) 1-0.
Friday, the Wildcats fought for a piece of the Big Ten title but lost late in the game against the Nittany Lions. With less than seven minutes remaining, Penn State’s second-top scorer, Laura Gebhart, slapped the dagger for the NU loss. After the game, the Cats had to hope Maryland would lose to Iowa on Saturday. The Terrapins won, which knocked off any chance for NU to claim part of the title.
“Penn State is (fifth) in the country for a reason,” coach Tracey Fuchs said. “We battled with them. They had the better of the play the first half, we had the better of the play the second half. It should prove to our entire team and people around the team that we’re one of the best top-10 teams. We can play with anybody.”
With NU’s loss Friday, Maryland’s win Saturday and Michigan’s win Sunday, the Cats claim the No. 3 seed going into the Big Ten Tournament.
Sunday was Senior Day for three Cats players: goalkeeper Maddy Carpenter and midfielders Kelsey Thompson and Kristin Wirtz. NU did not play up to its true potential. The Cats were unable to score in the first half against Kent State. NU has scored in every first half since the team played Rutgers in late September. Despite that, Fuchs can still see the silver lining.
“We didn’t play well today,” Fuchs said on Sunday. “Our skills were off, we were just not very good defensively or attack-wise. I think the trait of a good team is that you can play like we did and still come out with a victory. We’re happy about the win, but nobody’s really happy with the way we performed.”
On the statistics sheet, the Cats seemed to dominate, but were only able to net 1 goal during the game. All three seniors on the team started and turned up the heat early. NU shot six times in the first half, continually pressing the Golden Flashes by pushing the ball up-field at breakneck speed.
“In the first half, we were excited, and it came off a bit frantic,” Thompson said. “When we couldn’t put goals away, I think it got in our heads a little bit. At halftime, it was about keeping the energy up, but in a poised way. In the second half, that’s what we brought out: a poised sense of energy.”
The loss to Penn State fueled that energy. The Cats wanted to prove themselves worthy of playing with the best.
“It is hard to come back from a loss like that,” Wirtz said. “We were upset about it Friday night. Saturday (we) worked through it and really showed up today to focus on Kent State. You can’t take anybody lightly. We tried to focus on the present, focus on now because every game counts.”
With the seniors’ energy and focus also came the emotions of playing their final game at Lakeside Field. All three seniors contributed to the program and have seen it grow under Fuchs’ leadership.
“It’s been an exciting four, five years for us (seniors),” Thompson said. “We’ve seen the program go through a metamorphosis. It’s really awesome to leave it where it is now, and obviously we’re not done and we’ve got a lot of goals to reach.”
Correction: A previous headline misrepresented the significance of Northwestern’s game against Penn State on Friday. The game helped determine who won the Big Ten regular season title. The Daily regrets the error.
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