Women’s Soccer: Northwestern season ends in a way no one expected


Daily file photo by Noah Frick-Alofs

Marisa Viggiano dribbles the soccer ball. The senior midfielder played her final game for the Wildcats on Friday.

Charlie Goldsmith, Sports Social Media Editor

Women’s Soccer

When coach Michael Moynihan was hired to coach Northwestern in 2011, he brought a vision for how the program would play and how much success it would have. Then, over the last seven years, he built one of the strongest defenses in the country and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in three consecutive seasons.

Before Friday’s first-round game at N.C. State, Moynihan said part of the reason the NCAA selection committee gave the Wildcats — a clear bubble team — a spot in the tournament was a result of the previous success the team has had and the strong reputation it has earned.

And then Friday, a season that began with such high expectations ended. On a set piece late in the second half, the Wolfpack (11-6-3, 3-5-2 ACC) overpowered NU’s defense and scored one of the easiest goals the Cats (10-5-4, 4-4-3 Big Ten) have given up in the past two seasons.

“I think that was the only goal all year we’ve given up on a corner kick,” Moynihan said. “(N.C. State) was really shocked that it happened because that was right in the heart of our strength. I haven’t had a look at it, but every time you give up a goal there’s something you can do to fix it. I just don’t know what that is right now.”

Talking to a Wolfpack assistant after the game, Moynihan learned that forward Jenna Butler’s header in the 75th minute was the first goal of her career and the first time in two years the team has scored directly off a corner kick.

On that play, NU senior defender Kayla Sharples was eye-to-eye with Butler when the ball was at its apex, and for one of the first times of Sharples’ career, she was overpowered on a loose ball, falling to the ground as the ball went past her.

The score wouldn’t have been as close as it was without freshman goalkeeper Mackenzie Wood having a performance Moynihan said was one of the best of her career. She finished the game with six saves, including multiple diving stops that she used her fingertips to force outside the goal.

Despite the pace of play being quicker than normal for the Cats as a result of N.C. State constantly pushing the ball forward, NU was only able to muster three shots on goal. The closest chance came as a flicked header from ten yards by senior defender Michele Chernesky in the 37th minute that sailed several yards over the net. The majority of the Cats’ chances were desperate passes from more than 30 yards that the Wolfpack easily contested.

“The reality is that we didn’t score enough,” Moynihan said. “We didn’t have enough of a presence in the attack. I think (senior forward Brenna Lovera) might have been our only multiple goal scorer this year, and we need more scoring to advance further.”

Now, with the team graduating several entrenched starters including midfielder Marisa Viggiano, defender Hannah Davison, Sharples and Lovera, Moynihan expects the team to play differently moving forward. Losing two center-backs as talented and as physical as Sharples and Davison forces him to adjust the team’s defensive strategy around the strengths of Wood.

Before the season began, the team expected to contend for a regular season Big Ten championship and advance further than last year’s second-round run. But instead the Cats failed to make an impact after their NCAA Tournament selection.

“I wouldn’t say this season lived up to all the expectations in terms of results,” Moynihan said. “In terms of the team, and building a culture and doing what they should, I think maybe this season went beyond expectations… I think when people look at that and the fact that we made the NCAA Tournament again, it certainly advances the reputation of our program. We’re (now) a program that everyone expects to be there — and that’s pretty neat.”

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Twitter: @2021_Charlie