Daily file photo by Noah Frick-Alofs
After nearly three weeks on the road, Northwestern is ready to return to Evanston.
The Wildcats (4-5-1, 2-1 Big Ten) will open up their home conference play Thursday against Purdue (6-4-1, 2-2), who currently sits in sixth in the conference standings, two spots behind NU.
The Cats enter Thursday’s contest in a different position than the last time they played at home. Back on Sept. 13, NU had four goals on the season and had been shut out in all of its losses. Now, in the three games since, the Cats have scored five more times and are in the midst of a two-game win streak, both of which came against Big Ten teams.
“We always take pride in playing at home, (and) our team was a little bit dissatisfied with some of the nonconference results at home,” coach Michael Moynihan said. “We want to show people what we’re about — the improvements that we made and that we’re making progress.”
One area NU has improved on — though still needs to “fine-tune” — is its defense, Moynihan said. Earlier in the season, the Cats gave up three or more goals on multiple occasions, but in the past two games, they’ve only allowed one.
NU has also gained some conference recognition recently, with sophomore goalkeeper Mackenzie Wood and freshman outside back Danika Austin earning Big Ten accolades for the past week.
But the Boilermakers come to Evanston with a talented squad too. Freshman defender Sydney Sparks — who has two goals and 16 shots on the season — has won weekly Big Ten awards of her own this season, and so has sophomore goalkeeper Marisa Bova, who’s tallied a .791 save percentage.
“They’re an athletic team. They’re industrious, hardworking,” Moynihan said. “They put other teams under a lot of pressure. They sit back and they’re pretty well organized, and they counter well — teams like that can be difficult to play against.”
Wood said playing with the “grit” she and her teammates showed last week against Iowa and Nebraska would help the Cats come out on top Thursday.
Austin added that the team also needs to focus on themselves and their own game.
“(The challenge is) not worrying about the other opponent and just doing the little things right on our side — and doing everything we can to control the outcome,” Austin said.
The Michigan native added that she’s especially looking forward to playing in Thursday’s game because her family is coming to watch.
“It’s just exciting to finally play for our own crowd and represent our school on our home turf,” she said.
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