Women’s Soccer: Wildcats were desperate, now excited for NCAA chance


Daily file photo by Noah Frick-Alofs

Michele Chernesky kicks the ball. The senior has started all 18 games this autumn.

Charlie Goldsmith, Sports Social Media Editor

Women’s Soccer

For the first time since conference play began in September, Northwestern does not have any problems.

For a while, the Wildcats had scoring issues followed by an even bigger battle with injuries, and then they failed to qualify for the Big Ten postseason tournament. After a NCAA Tournament selection show where team members were “shaking” and “crying” as they desperately waited for the team’s name to be announced in the field, NU (10-4-4, 4-4-3 Big Ten) has exactly what it wanted in the preseason — a chance in the tournament — and plays N.C. State (10-6-3, 3-5-2 ACC) in Raleigh on Friday.

“Quite honestly, going into it there was a lot of nerves,” senior midfielder Marisa Viggiano said. “We’re very grateful that the NCAA granted us this opportunity.”

After several games this year, coach Michael Moynihan said he was amazed to see how the Cats lost some of the matches that put them on the tournament bubble. After results were decided by “bizarre calls” and goals the opposing player wouldn’t make again if he “(gave) either of them 50 chances,” NU failed to replicate the positive momentum the team garnered last season.

After making a push last season to the Big Ten Tournament championship game and hosting a game in the NCAA Tournament, the Cats’ 2018 preseason expectations included contending for the Big Ten regular season and postseason championship.

Also, they hope to advance further in the NCAA Tournament than last year, when the team made the second round. But starting Friday, NU has the opportunity to make up for lost time.

“We had luck not go our way this year, and it just felt like there wasn’t a good closure in our season,” senior defender Hannah Davison said. “Now, everything in our mentality has switched to not just being happy that we got in but we really have to go there and win and show the world the chance that they gave us.”

According to Viggiano, the Cats have spent their last three weeks between games getting healthier and working on their goal finishing. In NU’s regular season finale against Iowa, the Cats had 12 players out of 29 unavailable due to injury, including two starting midfielders and defenders.

Since their 1-1 regular season-ending tie against Iowa on October 21, the team has been following a schedule that resembles offseason training, including regular training sessions in the Ryan Fieldhouse. After five practices following the Iowa game, Moynihan allowed the team the weekend off, giving several players the opportunity to return home for the first time all season.

Viggiano said these past three weeks have allowed the team to regroup mentally and physically.

“It was almost like a second preseason,” she said. “Just focusing on stuff that was going to allow us to do better in games, especially in the final third.”

Facing a Wolfpack team that also struggled in conference play, Davison said the team is confident it’ll be able to at least match the distance the team covered in last season’s tournament. N.C. State lost to Wake Forest — their only common opponent with NU — and the Cats beat the Demon Deacons 2-0 this season.

If NU advances, the team will likely face No. 3 seed Santa Clara in the second round and No. 2 seed UCLA in the Sweet 16. But Davison said that after coming this far, the Cats are taking things one game at a time.

“It’s a good team to see in the first round,” Davison said. “I think they’re beatable. I think if we play our game we should be solid.”

Peter Warren contributed reporting.

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Twitter: @2021_Charlie