Women’s Soccer: Wildcats fall to Duke, bring season to close
November 20, 2016
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All good things must come to an end.
After tournament wins against SIU-Edwardsville on Friday and Kent State last week, Northwestern (16-3-4, 7-1-3 Big Ten) came up short against No. 3-seed Duke (15-4-3) in the third round of the NCAA Tournament. A goal by Blue Devils’ freshman Ella Stevens in the 33rd minute was the difference in the 1-0 defeat that marks the end of the Wildcats’ season.
Duke spent much of the game on the front foot, peppering junior goalkeeper Lauren Clem with 22 shots and keeping NU back on its heels for most of the game. But the Cats’ back line still put in another stalwart performance, limiting the Blue Devils’ chances outside of the goal and allowing just six shots on frame.
Junior defender Nikia Smith specifically held her own against Duke’s leading goal scorer, Toni Payne, holding the dangerous forward to just one shot on goal.
“As a team, we defended very well,” Smith said. “We knew they were going to be a tough opponent, and they had good offensive players. If they were going to beat us, they were not going to beat us easy.”
Even with the defense’s strong performance, a costly bobble by Clem off an awkward cross led to Stevens’ goal in the 33rd minute.
That score proved too much for the Cats to overcome. Throughout the season, coach Michael Moynihan stressed the importance of NU’s transition from defense to attack to the team’s success, and the Cats struggled to turn possession into chances en route to notching just two shots on the day.
Although NU was able to put together enough successful attacks to piece together a 1-0 win in Friday’s game against the Cougars, the Cats failed to get any momentum going forward in Sunday’s contest. Late in the game, Moynihan moved sophomore midfielder Marisa Viggiano up top in the hopes of getting an equalizer, but the move was too little too late for NU.
“(Duke) made it really difficult for us to string some passes together in the final third,” Viggiano said.
Sunday’s match marks the end of the Cats’ historic season, but even with the loss, NU’s 2016 team will go down alongside its 1998 squad as one of the greatest in school history. In amassing an NCAA-leading 17 shutouts on the season and placing six players on all-conference teams, the Cats were a force to be reckoned with.
Only three years ago, NU registered a 3-14-2 season and finished last in the Big Ten. But with the commitment of the team’s older players and Moynihan’s direction, NU rose to unparalleled heights as a Big Ten regular season champion this year. That massive climb left the team positive in the face of the end of its season.
“This game was about our seniors and the chemistry that this group has,” Moynihan said. “When these seniors started their careers, they were last in the Big Ten. To end their careers as Big Ten champions and Sweet 16 participants is really something special.”