Women’s Soccer: Wildcats aim to reach second consecutive Sweet 16 at UCLA


Daily file photo by David Lee

Mikayla Hampton kicks the ball. The freshman forward and the Wildcats will take on No. 2 UCLA in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday.

Charlie Goldsmith, Reporter

Women’s Soccer

Kassidy Gorman remembers when Northwestern was at the bottom, when winning in the NCAA Tournament wasn’t the baseline. When she was recruited, the Wildcats had one of the worst records in the Big Ten, but coach Michael Moynihan told her she would see the program rise.

Moynihan was right.

NU (12-7-3, 7-3-1 Big Ten) faces No. 2 UCLA (16-2-2, 8-2-1 Pac 12) in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, looking to qualify for its second consecutive Sweet 16 for the first time in program history. If the Cats win Friday, they will play again Sunday against No. 3 Virginia or Pepperdine with an Elite Eight bid on the line.

After joining a team that won three games in 2013, NU’s seniors have become the winningest class in program history, and Moynihan said they changed how the team is perceived nationally.

“The growth of the program has been a shock for some of them, and it’s not what they came in expecting,” Moynihan said of his seniors. “Every year we took some strides in different areas, and a big part is because of our culture. They’ve played the biggest part in the team coming together.”

After a dramatic penalty-kick victory in the first round Sunday against Butler, the Cats could qualify for their first Elite Eight with two wins in Los Angeles. Even though NU will face one of the most talented groups in the country Friday, Gorman said the seniors see a chance to make history.

“Winning in the postseason is something so incredible, and it pushes us to work harder and move forward,” the senior defender said. “Coming into Northwestern they weren’t doing these things … so we’ll come in on this stage with the mindset that we’re going to win.”

Though NU’s spirit is high, the Cats will face several Bruins with experience on the U.S. junior national teams, as well as freshman defender Kennedy Faulknor, who began playing internationally at 16.

Faulknor, who missed UCLA’s first round tournament match, played for the Canadian national team instead last weekend. She’s simultaneously trying to qualify for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup and win an NCAA Championship, but Moynihan expects she will be back with the Bruins on Friday.

To make the matchup even more difficult, the Bruins will likely bring the biggest crowd the Cats have seen this season. UCLA drew the biggest crowd in NCAA women’s soccer history in its regular season finale, when nearly 12,000 fans watched the Bruins beat crosstown rival USC in overtime Nov. 3.

For reference, 277 fans watched the Cats play Butler last week.

Despite the talent and fanbase on the other side, senior goalkeeper Lauren Clem said NU won’t see anything it hasn’t seen before. With four years of experience in elimination games, she said Friday is a chance to show the progress the Cats have made.

“We always match the other team’s play,” she said. “When we’re playing a better opponent, we know the expectation is higher and we know what they’re going to bring to us, so we come in prepared. We know their caliber and now we’re ready to match it.”

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