Women’s Soccer: Northwestern feeling the pressure after tie against Purdue


Daily file photo by Noah Frick-Alofs

Sophomore midfielder Kayleigh Stahlschmidt dribbles up the field. The midfield has been forced into several lineup changes as the result of a injuries and inconsistent play.

Charlie Goldsmith, Sports Social Media Editor

Women’s Soccer

For a team that’s focused all season on advancing further in the NCAA Tournament than last year, pressure is starting to build as Northwestern gets closer to the postseason. For the No. 25 Wildcats, who’ve been thinking about the Sweet 16 since last November, a game beyond Saturday’s regular season finale somehow is not guaranteed.

Sunday was a heavy dose of reality for NU (9-4-3, 3-4-2), which couldn’t avoid a disappointing 0-0 draw Sunday at home against Purdue (6-6-4, 1-5-3) and, as a result, remains on the outside of the Big Ten Tournament, where only the top 8 teams in the conference qualify.

“This team came into the season with such high expectations that it’s a real weight to carry,” coach Michael Moynihan said. “Everybody’s expectations of them were so high because they’ve done so well, and it’s hard.”

The Cats won eight of their first 12 games this season and rose to No. 14 in the NCAA rankings, but for the second time in two weeks, NU couldn’t beat a team at the bottom of the conference standings. Against the 13th-place Boilermakers on Sunday, after dominating possession for almost the entire first half, the Cats couldn’t get anything going offensively after that.

Moynihan made 10 total substitutions in the midfield and front line in the second half and overtime, which he attributed to a lack of confidence and aggression in NU’s attack.

“The midfield a lot of times is the engine that gets everything going,” he said. “I thought that some of the people who came in just didn’t seem to be really ready… It was hard to get much going forward and the forwards couldn’t really do it on their own.”

In the second half Sunday, NU lost its third starting midfielder, when sophomore Regan Steigleder collided in the air with a Purdue defender and fell to the turf with five minutes left in regulation. The Cats were struggling so much on offense that they chose to advance the ball and make a run at the goal while Steigleder laid on the ground writhing in pain, but sophomore forward Nia Harris’ shot at the net was blocked before NU’s trainer ran onto the field.

With Steigleder joining injured midfielders Madi Kennel and Marisa Viggiano on the sidelines, Moynihan gave time to players who haven’t been seeing meaningful minutes, including freshmen Kaylee Titus, Chloe McGhee and Madison Donley, in addition to junior Abby Dein, who lost her first two seasons to injury and hadn’t played a minute against Big Ten competition.

Senior forward Brenna Lovera, the team’s leading scorer, has been forced into more of a distributing role with Viggiano sidelined. Without the team’s leader in assists, Lovera said she’s struggled with a new set of responsibilities, including controlling possession and setting up her teammates.

“I had to become a little bit more vocal and a little bit more of a calming presence,” said Lovera, who had only one shot Sunday. “(Viggiano’s) our fearless leader and our warrior in the midfield, and she controls the tempo of the game. If things get frantic, she calms us down.”

With such a different-looking front seven, the Cats almost let the game slip away from them in the second half and overtime. In the final 65 minutes, NU was outshot 13-6, and without three challenging saves from freshman goalkeeper Mackenzie Wood late in overtime, Purdue would have completed the upset.

Her biggest highlight came eight minutes into overtime, when Wood blocked Purdue midfielder Kylie Hase’s shot from the left side of the box and dove on the ball a second before Purdue could have gotten off a game winner. The rest seemed to go wrong for the Cats against the Boilermakers, who sit next to last in the conference standings.

“I look at this and think it could have gone worse,” Moynihan said. “That would have been really crushing to lose a game on senior day.”

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