Women’s Soccer: With overtime goal, Northwestern wins share of Big Ten regular season title
October 27, 2016
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It took 23 seasons and 98 minutes, but Northwestern is finally on top of the Big Ten.
On a cold, wet and windy night at Martin Stadium, the No. 20 Wildcats (14-1-3, 7-1-3 Big Ten) grabbed a share of their first-ever Big Ten regular season title with a 1-0 overtime victory against Illinois (6-11-2, 3-6-2) on Wednesday. Sophomore defender Kayla Sharples was credited with the score after a scramble in front of the goal in the 98th minute resulted in the ball crossing the line.
From the outset, the game was physical, but NU’s defense was up to the task, holding the Fighting Illini to 10 shots and preventing major scoring chances. Even in the harsh weather conditions, Sharples and the rest of the back line were able to set the tone early by stepping up and forcing Illinois to make poor decisions in front of the goal.
“We wanted Illinois to focus on the bad weather, and for us to just play our game,” she said. “Everyone just played their hearts out.”
With wins by Penn State and Minnesota in other games, the Cats required a win of their own to earn their piece of a historic conference title. And after being held scoreless in its previous two games, NU needed to get its offense going to make that happen.
Following previous games, coach Michael Moynihan said lackluster transition from defense to attack played a role in the Cats’ offensive trouble. But at key moments in Wednesday’s game, NU was able to capitalize off impressive defensive stands by keeping possession and creating chances on the other end.
“I think it was just a little bit of composure. Sometimes we get a little too eager,” he said. “When (the midfielders are) calm and connecting, I think a lot of good things happen and we’re able to maintain our attack.”
Still, the Cats were unable to find the back of the net as time wound down and tension rose. Despite quality chances in both halves, NU was unable to finish off the Fighting Illini in regulation time.
When junior forward Kassidy Gorman finally scored a goal in the 98th minute, only to be called offside, it seemed like the goal the Cats needed might never come. But NU didn’t stop pressing, and less than a minute later it broke through with Sharples’ goal off a corner kick.
“All I processed was that it went in and that we won,” Gorman said. “It feels amazing. (The Big Ten title is) something that is so monumental for this program.”
Although the team celebrated on the field long after the game ended, the season isn’t close to being finished. The Cats now set their sights on Sunday’s Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal. NU is slated to host Nebraska, which it tied 0-0 on Oct. 16.
Moynihan said his team is motivated to earn more than a shared title in the conference tournament and continue its historic season.
“I would not bet against this group,” he said. “They’re hungry for more.”
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