Women’s Soccer: Improved second half not enough for Wildcats in tourney semifinal
November 7, 2016
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When No. 17 Northwestern entered the second half of Friday’s contest against No. 25 Rutgers with a new fire, it seemed inevitable that the Wildcats would even the score after falling behind early.
They had an opportunity immediately after the break, but a proactive play by the Scarlet Knights’ (11-4-6, 4-2-5 Big Ten) goalkeeper robbed junior midfielder Kassidy Gorman of an attempt to get off a clean shot. NU (14-2-4, 7-1-3) again fell just short in the 59th minute when graduate midfielder Nandi Mehta overshot a clean look amid a scrum in front of the goal and once more when senior Margo McGinty missed a header in the 78th.
Such was the narrative of the second half of the Cats’ semifinal game in the Big Ten Tournament. A slow start to the contest was followed by an exhibition of pure determination and grit — but one that ultimately proved futile. NU would finish the contest scoreless, losing 1-0 to Rutgers and watching its opponent advance in its stead.
“You could see that there was a deep-felt hunger to score, to get back into the game,” coach Michael Moynihan said. “And when the game was over, a lot of them were just beside themselves. After feeling like we had outplayed them by that much, to not have the result to show for it, it hurts.”
The 1-0 tally had hung on the scoreboard since the game’s seventh minute, when a previously mishandled ball was recovered by Rutgers forward Colby Ciarrocca, who tapped it past junior goalie Lauren Clem.
For the remainder of the first half, NU struggled to find a rhythm. The defensive-minded team had yet to score in the tournament — its first-round victory over Nebraska came in penalty kicks after a game-long 0-0 deadlock — and it seemed as though shifting momentum against a Rutgers team that had beaten it 2-0 earlier in the year would be a tall task.
Nonetheless, the team believed it could overcome a one-goal deficit.
“Our defense took a look around and said, ‘We’re fine. We’re still in this game,’” Clem said.
At halftime, Moynihan told the team to “amp up the pressure,” according to Clem.
The coach also said he made a number of personnel changes designed to better respond to the circumstances at the time.
“In some games, matchups are more advantageous for certain people,” Moynihan said. “And I think one of the things that’s very difficult as a coach is that you don’t know sometimes how those matchups are going to play out. And one game to the next, it might be a different person who shines.”
The decision to start junior forward Maria Fayeulle in the second half almost paid off when she nearly logged an assist on the chance by Gorman in the opening minutes. So too did the decision to play McGinty, who was absent in the first half.
The team as a whole emerged with a newfound fire in the final period.
“A lot of it was a sense of urgency, and the mentality that we had 45 minutes to get on the board,” sophomore midfielder Marisa Viggiano said. “We knew we had to come out strong.”
And they did, keeping the ball in Rutgers’ territory and pressuring the Scarlet Knights defense again and again.
But as close as they came, it wasn’t enough. Every opportunity to score fell just short, dooming the Cats to an early exit from the conference tournament.
NU’s season is not yet over, as the team received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament and is set to host a first-round game against Kent State. But Moynihan said that scoring goals won’t get any easier for the Cats moving forward.
“Finishing is the hardest part of the game,” Moynihan said. “Defenses are more organized as the season goes on, and the quality of the opponent keeps getting better.”