Women’s Soccer: Wildcats survive dramatically in penalty kicks, advance in NCAA Tournament


David Lee/The Daily Northwestern

Kayla Sharples kicks the ball. The junior defender and the Wildcats beat Butler in penalty kicks to advance to the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament.

Charlie Goldsmith, Reporter

Women’s Soccer

Lauren Clem was all by herself, standing on the back line with the fate of her senior season coming right at her. Northwestern was in penalty kicks after 110 scoreless minutes in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, playing in its first match since the heartbreaker against Penn State that cost the Wildcats a Big Ten Tournament championship.

Clem wasn’t ready for her career to end, which she told her teammates in a huddle before penalty kicks began. But with a 3-2 advantage before the Bulldogs’ final attempt, her teammates were 50 yards away, unable to help. It was up to Clem to keep her career going.

Butler forward Caitlyn DiSarcina aimed for the top corner and missed. NU survived.

“I knew that I needed to take a deep breath and just take it one shot at a time,” Clem said. “You don’t have a lot of time to kick so you just step and fly.”

Butler failed to score on its final three attempts against the 2016 All-American, and goalkeeper coach Paul Jennison said Clem made DiSarcina shrink in the match’s biggest moment, sending the Cats to the Round of 32.

NU had not gone to penalty kicks all season, but Clem stepped into the situation unphased. On each attempt, she added what Jennison calls a pre-stretch — a quick jump to the side — to keep the Bulldogs uncertain. Because of Clem’s creativity, athleticism and experience, Jennison said she barely needed to prepare for the moment that could have ended her college career.

“Honestly, Lauren has been a little underused in her preparation until we spent about 20 minutes yesterday working on it, and it was really massive for her to step up like that,” Jennison said. “Any time you’re going to battle with an All-American in goal, you know that she’s going to come up with the win.”

Though the Cats didn’t face an equally-imposing threat in goal, coach Michael Moynihan said he could sense his team’s nerves. Entering penalty kicks, he said he asked the players who wanted the chance to end Butler’s season, and two freshmen wanted in. One of them, midfielder Kylie Fisher, scored the first goal of her career and gave NU a wide enough margin for Clem to seal the result with the final save she’ll ever make at Martin Stadium.

Until the climactic finish in penalty kicks, the Cats and the Bulldogs showed little offensive firepower in a scoreless game played in difficult conditions. Fisher said the weather reminded them to step up as tension grew during overtime.

“We don’t let anything impact us,” she said. “Not the cold, not the rain, we just always fight harder as a team. Nothing could stop us from getting the win.”

Following its third consecutive victory in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, NU will travel to Los Angeles to face second-seeded UCLA on Friday night. Moynihan said the Bruins have one of the best programs in the country, but the Cats have already proved they can surprise the country’s toughest competition, as they have over the last three years.

Since Moynihan arrived in 2011, NU won its first Big Ten Championship, advanced to its second conference tournament championship and held every Big Ten opponent scoreless at home this season. But Clem “pre-stretching” and intimidating the Bulldogs’ last shooter, he said, will be one of his favorite coaching memories.

“We’re starting to rack up a lot of really good moments because we’ve had a bunch of dramatic victories, but this is right up there,” Moynihan said. “We have a group of seniors that want to keep going and going, and I’m really happy that we can continue to do that.”

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