Men’s Soccer: Wildcats look to clinch 7th spot in Big Ten with win over Penn State


Daily file photo by David Lee

Riley Kelliher jukes a defender to the ground. The senior defender will look to lead the Wildcats over Penn State in their final regular season game.

Chirag Akella, Reporter

Men’s Soccer

At first glance, Northwestern’s Sunday contest at Penn State doesn’t appear to hold much significance. With both teams near the bottom of the Big Ten, neither has a chance at a top seed.

However, this weekend’s game has major postseason implications for both teams –– ones that could determine how far the Wildcats (6-10, 1-6 Big Ten) make it in the conference tournament next weekend.

Currently, the team sits seventh in the conference, one spot ahead of Penn State (4-9-2, 1-6 Big Ten). With a win, NU would clinch the No. 7 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, avoiding the play-in match and earning extra rest.

The Cats have been on a tear of late, winning four of their last five games, including a double overtime thriller against Loyola on Tuesday. The team said the wins have improved morale as it heads into its regular season finale.

“The biggest factor coming from the momentum is just confidence,” sophomore midfielder Sean Lynch said. “We really have a lot more confidence in ourselves right now, in our ability to score and our ability to shut other teams down.”

NU’s quality run of play can be partly attributed to the team’s improved attack. Over the last five games, the Cats have scored 10 goals, which account for over half of their season total of 17 scores.

The defense has also stepped up, conceding only five of the team’s 27 season goals over the same five-game stretch. The team has benefitted from a slight tactical change, as it featured a four-man defense in recent games.

“We kind of changed our formation a little bit with four players in the back and I think it has suited us much better,” senior defender Riley Kelliher said. “We also had a tough stretch early in the Big Ten and then we started to have a few home games in a row which helped us get our confidence back.”

Even with the program’s struggles in recent years, the Cats have had the Nittany Lions’ number, winning three-straight matchups, including an overtime upset over then-No. 18 Penn State in 2014. However, despite the recent win streak, coach Tim Lenahan and the team aren’t taking the match lightly, as the last six matches between the squads have been decided by a goal each and have featured three overtime finishes.

Though NU holds a losing record this season, the team has been training hard and is looking to rise to the occasion to put itself in position to extend its season, Lenahan said.

“It has been really enjoyable for the coaches and the players to go to practice every day,” Lenahan said. “We have sensed our improvement as the season has gone on, so we are just hoping to go out there and play well and have the result go in our favor and get ready for the Big Ten Tournament.”

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