Women’s Soccer: Freshman Mackenzie Wood is ahead of the curve


(Daily file photo by David Lee) Kayla Sharples surveys the pitch. The senior defender has helped the Northwestern defense allow only five goals all season.

Charlie Goldsmith, Sports Social Media Editor

Women’s Soccer

Michael Moynihan wants you to know that freshman goalkeeper Mackenzie Wood isn’t perfect. Not yet.

It might look that way for the two-time Big Ten freshman of the week, who’s having as good a statistical start to her freshman season as former All-American Lauren Clem had in her four years at Northwestern.

But this is all still new for her, so fresh that her teammates wished her luck before she made her first media availability appearance at Northwestern this week. Wood will be in the net for the 12th time this season as NU (7-2-2, 1-2-1 Big Ten) faces Michigan (6-5, 2-2) on Friday, but Moynihan has been holding her to the same high standard all season.

Wood wants to start for the U-20 national soccer team in the 2020 FIFA World Cup, so she has two years to establish herself as one of the best U-20 players in the country.

“To do that, she needs to develop a little more of a vocal presence and a little more strength,” Moynihan said. “We knew she’d be a great shot stopper… but we didn’t know how she’d do in traffic against bigger, stronger players. She’s done really well.”

There wasn’t even much competition for the starting spot in the preseason between Wood and the two other goalies on the roster — senior Molly Lansford and freshman Cherish Anderson. Moynihan said he didn’t announce anything before the first game of the season because after the preseason, everybody had just assumed the 5-foot-9 freshman would have the opportunity —and the burden — of taking over for Clem.

“Coming in and trying to be a goalkeeper and knowing that Lauren is so good, I think knowing that in her head is sometimes difficult,” said senior defender Kayla Sharples. “You want to compare yourself, you want to be the best that you can be.”

According to Moynihan, the two goalies aren’t at all similar. Clem was the tallest player on NU’s roster and was well-known for her vocal presence on the back line. Wood said she emulates two players, former U.S. men’s national team goalkeeper Tim Howard and Clem, and she wants to improve her command of the field.

“My communication — it’s a little bit shaky,” Wood said. ”Watching film is a big thing. And having confidence more and not worrying about if what you say is wrong.”

Wood has been studying her games, breaking down moments when she could have been more assertive on the back line. Rarely she stops the film to analyze a technical mistake.

Instead, it’s the moments where she should have seen an opportunity developing, called it out and prevented it altogether. In that aspect, she wants to learn how to be like Clem.

“When you think of the really high-level keepers around the world, they have a presence in the goal,” Moynihan said. “They’re vocal, everybody knows they’re there. She’s kind of a little bit more on the quiet side.”

But then there’s the other side of Wood — the diving saves and her limitless range in the net. Over the years, Wood claims to have stolen several moves from Howard, including his signature kick-save, which she executed in the second half against Missouri in just her fifth collegiate game.

Wood was recognized as Big Ten Freshman of the Week after notching four saves in the second half last week against No. 20 Penn State, a performance Sharples said she’s seen coming since the preseason.

“Her saves, and her athletic ability to be able to get down and get low when she needs to,” Sharples said. “She had a really good save against Penn State where she did that and just laid out with her hand, it was so strong… I kind of expected that.”

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Twitter: @2021_Charlie