Daily file photo by Noah Frick-Alofs
Ten players made their Northwestern debuts Thursday night against Southern Methodist, donning their purple shirts for the first time as the Wildcats opened their 2018-19 season at Lakeside Field.
That should have been the night’s story — a changing of the guard. The old, familiar faces of Brenna Lovera and Kayla Sharples are gone, replaced by exciting freshmen Paige Miller and Aurea Martin.
But in the aftermath of NU’s (0-1) 1-0 loss to SMU (1-0), the only thing Coach Michael Moynihan could do was shake his head and try to move on.
He saw his young team outshoot the Mustangs 9-4, drawing 14 fouls in the process. The Cats dominated in both possession and scoring opportunities. Yet the result came down to an awkward collision in the 19th minute between NU sophomore goalkeeper Mackenzie Wood and SMU forward Hannah Allred. It was a seemingly harmless play at the far corner of the box, with both players’ eyes on the ball.
And yet, the referee pointed at the spot —-leaving Moynihan and his team confused.
“When there’s a penalty kick players generally know that they’ve done something wrong,” Moynihan said. “They’ll at least argue that it wasn’t one. But we didn’t even know it was a penalty kick. They were setting up for something entirely different.”
In almost every other instance, the Cats commanded play, with junior Nia Harris and freshman Olivia Stone exploiting their pace to cut inside the opponents’ back line. NU thought it had its own penalty shot in the 30th minute, when junior Regan Steigleder was knocked down from behind with the ball at her feet at the edge of the box. Yet that foul went uncalled.
Later in the game, with five minutes remaining in the second half, the action intensified. Mustangs’ defender Jessica Cooley was whistled for a handball in the box, giving NU another chance to tie the game with a penalty kick of its own. But SMU goalkeeper Tatum Sutherland stood tall, stopping both ensuing shots from graduate defender Taylor Hallmon, the penalty kick itself and a rebound just as it crossed the goal line.
“I thought the first save was okay but the second one was great,” Moynihan said. “Taylor came flying in. I thought she had the rebound and hit it well. I thought she had it so the keeper did very well to keep it out.”
A tale of two penalty kicks — one unjustified but successful, the other, called correctly, yet stopped. Sports can be cruel that way.
But those weren’t the game’s only chances. NU’s young roster produced many chances for an equalizer, using intricate footwork and speed in a bid to break down the SMU defense.
“In the first half they were a little nervous,” Steigleder of her new teammates. “But later in the first half and in the second half they really stepped up and got their nerves out. I think we played really good soccer as a whole and the new 11 are looking pretty good.”
Steigleder was dominant at times. Like in the 66th minute, when she ushered the ball through several SMU defenders to the near side of the box, finding Martin all alone in front of goal. But the midfielder’s finesse attempt curved just high.
Then, consecutive fouls just outside the 18-yard box gave Steigelder two straight chances to go for goal in the game’s dying seconds. The second of those chances just glazed over the top of the crossbar, dipping ever so slightly, just not enough.
“Hopefully in the next games they go a few inches down,” Steigelder said, shrugging. “Hoping for the best.”