Women’s Soccer: Wildcats shock Nittany Lions with dramatic Big Ten quarterfinal victory

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Nathan Richards/Daily Senior Staffer

Freshman Michelle Manning, whose goal Saturday earned Northwestern a spot in the Big Ten Tournament, lifted the Wildcats to victory again Tuesday. Manning scored in the 69th minute to give NU a shocking 1-0 win over Penn State.

Huzaifa Patel, Reporter


Soccer


In order to advance Wednesday, Northwestern had to beat the best.

The Wildcats (9-7-4, 4-6-3 Big Ten) had clawed their way to the Big Ten tournament rather improbably, but in order to advance, they had to go through a 17-2 Penn State team that had lost just once in its last 15 games.

And that’s just what they did.

After a back-and-forth first half left both teams scoreless, the Cats struck in the 69th minute of their quarterfinal Wednesday. Freshman forward Michelle Manning, unassisted from more than 20 yards out, knocked a left-footed shot into the right corner to give the Wildcats what would be the game-winning goal.

Going into the Big Ten tournament, NU coach Michael Moynihan said he liked his team’s chances against No. 1 seed Penn State (17-3-0, 12-1-0). In West Lafayette, Indiana, on Wednesday, the team followed through on his bold words, knocking off the regular season Big Ten Champions and putting themselves one game away from the Big Ten Tournament championship game.

“Jubilance would be a good way to describe it,” Moynihan said in regard to his team’s immediate reaction after the game. “We were very excited. They’ve been playing better and better as the year has gone on, playing with a lot of confidence. I think they stepped off the field feeling like not only did we win, but we were right there with them, step for step.”

Even after losses this year, the Cats felt like they competed well, often feeling like they were one chance away from changing the outcome. But the team persisted through missed opportunities and continued to play well to the finish.

“Movies can be made about this kind of stuff,” Moynihan said. “The adversity that they’ve faced over the course of last season and the last few years, the senior group in particular. As the leader of this team, I’m so happy for them.”

The hero of the day wasn’t a senior though. It was the freshman Manning, who was also quick to point out the team’s strong defense and perseverance.

“I’ve never played with a team that’s been this mentally tough,” Manning said. “We just grinded everything out from the start of the whistle to the end. This team has the most passion for the game of any I’ve ever played with.”

It’s easy to look at this game as one of the biggest in program history. The last time the Cats won a game in the Big Ten Tournament, in 1997, the current players on the team were just toddlers. Moynihan didn’t go that far but did acknowledge the importance of the win in terms of changing the reputation of the program.

“It shows we’re moving in the right direction,” he said. “When I came to Northwestern, I felt there was just tremendous potential. The academic reputation of the school is among the very best. Now we’re competing with the best athletically. It opens up a lot of opportunities out there for women that want the best of both.”

If the Cats want to continue their Cinderella run, they’ll have to go through an Iowa team that beat them 1-0 back in September. Moynihan said the Hawkeyes are a tough team, but he’s confident, once again, in their chances Friday.

“We’ll have our hands full, but I feel good,” Moynihan said. “Since we played last time, I think the team has improved a lot.”

Manning agreed.

“We know that we can beat them,” she said. “We feel confident in how we’re playing lately. We’re going to come out with a lot of hard work and take it to them.”

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Twitter: @HuzaifaPatel95

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