Women’s Soccer: Wildcats head to Champaign with chance to clinch berth in Big Ten Tournament


Leeks Lim/The Daily Northwestern

Freshman defender Kayla Sharples wins an aerial challenge. Northwestern has a chance to clinch a spot in the Big Ten tournament against Illinois on Saturday.

Charlotte Vaziri, Reporter

Women’s Soccer

After a long and successful season to date, Northwestern’s (11-4-2, 5-3-1 Big Ten) showing as they fight Illinois (9-4-3, 3-3-3) on the road could be the difference in qualifying for the Big Ten Tournament.

“A lot is on the line,” coach Michael Moynihan said. “It will be Illinois’ Senior Day. They’re No. 8 (in the Big Ten), we’re No. 6. It will be a fight.”

Of the 14 teams in the Big Ten, only eight qualify for the conference tournament. With only two conference games remaining in the regular season for each team, the race to lock down one of those eight spots is down to the wire.

The current top four seeds — Wisconsin (with 22 points), Penn State (19 points), Minnesota (19 points) and Rutgers (17 points) — can breathe a sigh of relief. Mathematically, no matter the upcoming results, their entry into the Big Tens is secure. The only impact the final games have is on their tournament seeding.

At the moment, the Cats (16 points), along with Michigan (17 points), Ohio State (14 points) and Illinois (12 points) are in position to qualify in the remaining four spots. Unlike the top four, the fate of their conference tournament bid rides on these last two games.

“We could finish in the top four or be knocked out,” Moynihan said.

NU, Ohio State, Illinois, Michigan State (11 points) and Purdue (10 points) are all within two games of contesting each other’s Big Ten record.

The Cats can punch their ticket with a win or a tie against the Fighting Illini. Wins against Illinois and against Wisconsin on Tuesday could thrust NU into a top-four spot in the conference and a home game to begin the Big Tens.

But if NU slips up in its remaining games, it will be at the mercy of other teams and hoping the combination of outcomes around the conference doesn’t boot them. If the Cats fall to Illinois and again to Wisconsin on Tuesday,  they will be left hoping the Spartans and Boilermakers don’t shake things up by winning both games.

With so much up in the air, Moynihan is choosing to control what he can to better NU’s qualifying odds.

“There’s so much that can change,” he said. “We’re only thinking about Illinois.”

The Cats have plenty to think about in trying to find a flaw in Fighting Illini forward Jannelle Flaws.

Flaws is the best goal-scorer to ever put on the orange and blue jersey. She owns the career goal-scoring record for Illinois and currently leads her team in goals (9), assists (6), points (24) and shots (73).

“(She is) a fantastic goal scorer that strikes the ball as well as anyone you’ve ever seen. She’s dangerous around the goal, from a distance, and has great instincts in the attacking third,” Moynihan said.

The Fighting Illini also have a unique weapon in their arsenal that allows them to generate frequent offensive opportunities — the flip-throw.

Illinois midfielder Nicole Breece can generate a flip-throw that launches from the sideline into the box and causes havoc defensively. Throw-ins are much more prevalent in games than standard set pieces, giving the Fighting Illini more chances to create threats that are equivalent in danger to free kicks and corners.

The Cats are coming off a 4-0 win against Iowa last Sunday, but sophomore goalkeeper Lauren Clem said NU is still hungry heading into their first chance to clinch a Big Ten tournament berth.

“We have a larger goal in mind, and that was just one step of us getting closer,” she said.

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