Northwestern won’t play in the inaugural Big Ten Championship, but it wasn’t for lack of effort.
The No. 3 seed Wildcats (12-6, 3-3) played one of their most ferocious outings of the season Friday in the Big Ten Championship semifinal match against No. 2 Penn State (13-4, 5-1), only to fall to the Nittany Lions for the second time in two weeks, this time 13-10.
The two teams took turns scoring in 3- or 4-goal chunks at the beginning of the game. By the time they settled into a back-and-forth pattern, Penn State was up 7-4 with 10 minutes left in the half.
The Cats were playing catch-up from then on, but not smartly enough. Like the 14-10 loss NU suffered against Penn State on April 19, the Cats’ stats and the final score tell two different stories.
NU was winning in the circle — 16 draw controls to Penn State’s nine — and shot almost as much as the Nittany Lions, but nine costly turnovers ruined hard-fought possessions throughout the game.
Coach Kelly Amonte Hiller’s squad was working too hard for not enough payoff. Before sophomore midfielder Sheila Nesselbush scored her consolation goal with under two minutes left, Penn State’s last goal of the game was a free-position goal from senior Tatum Coffey. It was the result of a nearly two-minute possession by the Nittany Lions that had the Cats running ragged playing defense two players down.
The remainder of the game featured long midfield runs from the likes of senior midfielders Jess Carroll and Haydyn Anigian, as well as frantic shots from senior attack Kara Mupo.
Mupo and junior midfielder Kaleigh Craig did the most damage in Penn State’s defensive zone.
The senior kept the ball moving and ran the offense in typical bullish style, and Craig struck like a heat-seeking missile, weaving, dodging and switching hands before zinging each of her 4 goals past Penn State keeper Emi Smith.
Craig ended the weekend as NU’s leading scorer of the tournament, with 7 goals.
Mupo added 3 tallies for the second time in as many days, but it wasn’t enough to offset turnovers or the trio of hat tricks from Penn State, courtesy of some of the most dangerous shooters in the game: Coffey, junior Madison Cyr and sophomore Steph Lazo.
Team leading scorer, freshman Selena Lasota, had trouble breaking away from her face guard and, compared to the rest of the season, barely saw the ball in her stick. She contributed 1 goal.
Senior goalkeepers Bridget Bianco and Paige Jones split time in goal, with Jones notching four saves and Bianco making just one in her first 25 minutes between the pipes.
Smith saved seven attempts for Penn State.
NU, a favorite at the beginning of the season to be a conference championship contender, now ends its Big Ten play sullied by three brutal conference losses.
Not only did the Cats not avenge their earlier Lakeside Field loss to the Nittany Lions, but they won’t get the chance to replay Maryland, who dealt NU a brutal first loss of the conference season, 16-5.
NU will have a chance to redeem itself in the NCAA Tournament. The Cats earned the No. 8 seed and will host Louisville on Friday in Evanston. Lakeside Field will also serve as the host site for the game between Notre Dame and Ohio State.
The victor of each game will advance to face each other in the second round, also taking place in Evanston. NU has already faced and beaten each of the three teams this season.
This post was updated at 10:50 p.m. on May 3 with information about the NCAA Tournament.
Email: [email protected]