Women’s Soccer: Northwestern triumphs in penalties in Big Ten Tournament opener
October 30, 2016
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Northwestern is one step closer to a conference tournament title.
With emotions running high, the No. 20 Wildcats (14-1-4, 7-1-3 Big Ten) advanced past Nebraska (11-5-4, 5-3-3) on penalties in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament.
A stalwart performance by junior goalkeeper Lauren Clem and a decisive penalty kick by sophomore midfielder Marisa Viggiano secured NU’s victory and the right to move forward in the Big Tens.
In the first 15 minutes, the Cornhuskers looked primed for a victory. The Cats failed to apply immediate pressure, were caught watching the ball and consistently lost possession in Nebraska territory. Offensive production has been a point of concern for coach Michael Moynihan throughout the season.
“We weren’t maybe as crisp or as clean as we needed to be to take some pressure off our defense,” he said. “The build-up into the final third wasn’t consistent enough, and that’s what we need to keep working on.”
Even without a strong offense, NU has consistently been able to look to its defense to get the job done. The Cats had a school-record 14 shutouts in the regular season, including a scoreless draw against Nebraska on Oct. 16.
True to form, as NU gained momentum in its attack, the Cats’ defense held firm on the opposite side of the field. Sophomore center backs Kayla Sharples and Hannah Davison gave NU the physical edge needed to hold the Cornhuskers to just five shots on goal.
“Last year we were knocked out in the first round, so this year we were hungry to come back,” Davison said. “We’ve already made a lot of program history, and we’re ready to do some more”
Nebraska was unable to capitalize on the chances it had, as Clem proved to be a steel wall. Whether it came in breaking down Cornhusker counterattacks or blocking penalty kicks, Clem lived up to her title as the Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year.
Clem’s ability to survey the field and communicate with her teammates shifted the game in the Cats’ favor. When NU had stretches of bad passes or failed to pick up Nebraska strikers, Clem’s calming presence in goal allowed the team to correct itself and regain control.
“We really focused on locking down on defense, starting and building up from the back,” she said. “When we get stressed out on the field, we start to freak out and it turns negative.”
The action went back and forth late into the game, but after both teams failed to score in regulation and two overtime periods, the game headed into a penalty shootout.
From there, the Cats made the plays they needed to pull out the win. Clem came up with a big save on Nebraska’s third attempt, and after another miss by the Cornhuskers, Viggiano slotted home the penalty that secured NU’s advancement.
The Cats now advance to a Friday semifinal matchup with Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights handed NU its sole loss of the season Sept. 23, so the team is eagerly awaiting the rematch.
“Hopefully, we can right some wrongs,” Davison said.