The Daily Northwestern

Women’s Soccer: Same as always, NU’s back line at center of team’s success

Lauren+Clem+leaps+to+make+a+save.+The+goalkeeper+is+one+of+only+two+starters+from+last+year%E2%80%99s+team+who+graduated+in+June.+
Lauren Clem leaps to make a save. The goalkeeper is one of only two starters from last year’s team who graduated in June.

Lauren Clem leaps to make a save. The goalkeeper is one of only two starters from last year’s team who graduated in June.

(Daily file photo by David Lee)

(Daily file photo by David Lee)

Lauren Clem leaps to make a save. The goalkeeper is one of only two starters from last year’s team who graduated in June.

Charlie Goldsmith, Sports Social Editor

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Women’s Soccer


The roots of the comeback are hard to trace. Last season, Northwestern had one of the country’s best mid-season turnarounds that took them from the middle of the Big Ten pack to the conference tournament championship game and the second round of the NCAA Tournament, but no one with the team could really say how it happened.

It wasn’t an improved “focus” — an often cliched explanation that players and coaches give when their first and second half records don’t match. It wasn’t a different style of play because coach Michael Moynihan has reinforced the same principals since he started at Northwestern in 2011.

But somehow, after losing 1-0 to the team at the bottom of the Big Ten standings and falling to .500 for the season, the Wildcats rattled off six straight wins and led No. 11 Penn State at halftime of the conference championship game before ultimately falling 2-1.

During that stretch, a struggling defense gelled into one of the nation’s best, and centerbacks Kayla Sharples and Hannah Davison finished the season as all-conference players. Now seniors, Sharples and Davison will again be tone setters for a team that prides itself on the cohesion of its backline.

Few programs in the Big Ten have as defined an identity as NU. The Cats have relied on a patient attack, an intelligent midfield and physical defense to win a dozen or more games by small margins over the past three seasons.

Now for the first time under Moynihan, NU has NCAA-tournament expectations without the services of graduated goalkeeper Lauren Clem, who finished her career with a Big Ten-record 49 shutouts. Clem played nearly every minute in net since the 2015 season, and for the first time since then there’s uncertainty at the position.

Freshman Mackenzie Wood, who played for the US National U18 and U16 teams, has taken Clem’s number 1 and will compete with freshman Cherish Anderson and senior Molly Lansford for the starting spot.

Aside from Clem, NU lost only one starter from last season’s team, and senior defender Nikia Smith is fully recovered from an injury that cost her the entire 2017 season after playing every match in 2016.

The Cats open their season on Friday with a matchup against Miami University in Bloomington, Indiana.

Email: charliegoldsmith2021@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @2021_Charlie

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