Men’s Soccer: Wildcats’ push to NCAA tournament begins against Notre Dame


Daily file photo by Zack Laurence

Senior forward Joey Calistri readies to kick the ball. Calistri and his fellow seniors will be called upon to help carry the Cats back to the NCAA Tournament as the season winds down.

Benjamin Pope, Reporter

Men’s Soccer

With five games left in the regular season, Northwestern is in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010.

The potential reality is something the team’s eight seniors are trying desperately to avoid.

“It’s the last five games of my career possibly,” senior midfielder Cole Missimo said. “As seniors … we’ve got to lead as a group, work as hard as we can and try to get those results.”

After back-to-back home losses, the Wildcats (5-6-1, 2-3-0 Big Ten) have slipped to 61st in the NCAA men’s soccer RPI rankings, as of Monday. Forty-eight teams at season’s end are invited to the tournament, with RPI being one of the most influential factors in the selection process. Not since an 8-10-3 campaign five years ago has NU finished a season outside of that group of 48.

However, the Cats will enjoy a massive opportunity to make a major jump in the rankings on Tuesday night. A win over No. 7 Notre Dame (8-2-4, 3-1-2 ACC), a team that NU has beaten or tied six of the past seven years, could boost the team back into the thick of tournament contention.

Coach Tim Lenahan, who has seen plenty of the Fighting Irish over the years, noted the excellence of Notre Dame’s program but also mentioned the Cats are highly familiar with their usual stars.

“They’re a very experienced team,” he said. “Not too many freshmen ever get to play at Notre Dame, (so) it’s the same guys that we’ve seen for three, four, sometimes even five years. I think we’ll have a good game with them.”

The Fighting Irish have been ranked 12th in the nation or higher at the time of each of their last four meetings with NU but hadn’t successfully conquered the Cats until a 1-0 win last October. NU tied 1-1 with its South Bend rival in 2013, the year Notre Dame went on to win the national title, and won 2-1 in 2012, the year Notre Dame went on to enter the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed.

This autumn, Notre Dame has not dropped any of its last seven matches but have tied three of its last four, topping Duke while tying North Carolina State, Michigan and, most recently, Virginia Tech.

The Cats are hoping to produce a similar result in a heavy underdog role that they did less than three weeks ago against Maryland, a game in which they rallied for a stunning 2-1 OT win in arguably the most impressive accomplishment of their campaign to date.

“It’s kind of like taking on Maryland,” junior defender Nathan Dearth said of Tuesday’s matchup. “You know you’re going to have to bring your best stuff. (Fortunately), we know (Notre Dame) inside and out.”

Lenahan performed a symbolic gesture after last Friday’s loss, handing literal keys to the team to the eight seniors on the roster.

He knows the team must rely on the leadership of seniors such as forward Joey Calistri (who is tied for the second-most career goals in program history), stalwart defenders Henry Herrill and Nati Schnitman and starting goalkeeper Zak Allen to carry the team to a crucial strong finish.

“Now it’s our time to drive the team,” Missimo said.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @benpope111