Women’s Soccer: Northwestern continues NCAA Tournament run, takes on underdog SIU-Edwardsville
November 17, 2016
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After advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament for its second-straight season, No. 21 Northwestern will seek to take a step further this year against the team that pulled off the biggest upset of the tournament so far.
The Wildcats (15-2-4, 7-1-3 Big Ten) will continue their tournament run after dominating Kent State 3-0 at Martin Stadium last Saturday. However, SIU-Edwardsville (10-7-5) comes into the Friday matchup in Durham, North Carolina hot off a victory over then-No. 6 Notre Dame in a penalty-kick shootout in the first round.
Despite its opponents’ momentum, junior midfielder Kassidy Gorman was confident NU would be able to create chances against the Cougars.
“Notre Dame had a lot of good chances against (SIUE),” Gorman said. “We’re focusing on capitalizing on those chances that we get.”
The Cats are the more battle-tested of the teams, after competing in a Big Ten conference that sent eight teams to the NCAAs. Meanwhile, the Cougars notched middling results in the Ohio Valley Conference and were the only team from the conference to make the tournament.
SIUE has been solid offensively to date, scoring a goal and a half per game. But the Cougars are coming off a first-round scoreless draw against the Fighting Irish and may have limited room to work against an NU defense that allows less than five shots on goal per game.
Though the Cats have largely struggled to capitalize on scoring chances this season, their showing in the first round was a good sign. NU’s three goals in the contest marked the first time the team has scored more than one goal in a game since Oct. 9.
Because the Cats have had numerous injuries along the front line, they have been forced to find new ways to score. Recently, they’ve found success off corner kicks, as two of NU’s last four goals have been scored by sophomore defender Kayla Sharples off corners. Sharples said the team’s tenacity serves it well on set pieces.
“We just don’t want the ball to hit the ground,” Sharples said. “That desire to win, to get the ball into the back of the net, to be that person, is a huge thing.”
Along with her much-needed offensive spark, Sharples’ primary contributions have come as a key cog in a defense that has recorded 16 shutouts in 21 games this year. The Cats have been nearly impossible to break down this year, allowing just .27 goals per 90 minutes, best in the country. Recently, NU has allowed one goal in its last seven games, and its defense and junior goalkeeper Lauren Clem will need to continue to thrive for the Cats to continue their success in the NCAAs.
With a win against SIUE, NU would face the winner of a matchup between No. 14 Duke, owner of strong wins over No. 8 Minnesota and No. 15 Virginia, and Illinois State.
If the Cats continue to advance, the difficulty and pressure to win will only increase for a team that has never made it past the round of 16. Coach Michael Moynihan said his team is focused on meeting the upcoming challenges as it looks to make school history.
“At this stage, anything can happen,” Moynihan said. “There are 32 teams left. Every one of them is good.”