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The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Men’s Soccer: Upperclassmen lead Northwestern’s resurgence, come up short in Big Ten Tournament defeat

Daily file photo by Eli Kronenberg
Northwestern prepares for a throw-in. The Wildcats’ season came to a close in a 1-0 Friday loss to Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament.

The soccer gods were cruel to Northwestern Friday in a 1-0 season-ending loss against Michigan, but no player fell victim to their injustice more than senior forward Justin Weiss.

In the 44th minute, roughly 35 yards away from the goal, the Wildcats’ leading goalscorer unleashed an absolute firecracker from his right foot. There was a collective gasp of anticipation when the captain struck the ball. The audacity of Weiss to try a hit from that distance jolted ’Cats supporters to life.

The shot had Michigan goalkeeper Isaiah Goldson thoroughly beat, but the shot drilled the crossbar and bounced away. The anticipation in the bleachers turned to disbelief. No one could comprehend how Weiss had come oh so close to scoring the goal of the year in the Big Ten, with NU’s season on the line, but instead came up so unlucky.

Weiss was in tears after the game. Not because he missed the opportunity to score what would have been one of the most incredible goals of the season, but instead because it may be the last time he will share the field with senior Rom Brown. As the rain fell and the wind swirled under the lights at Martin Stadium, the two players hugged in consolation.

Weiss and Brown, along with the other graduating players, were integral pieces of NU’s surprising turnaround this season. For a program that has seen just two winning seasons in the past decade, 2023 was a season where the ‘Cats desperately needed a strong veteran presence. Upperclassmen delivered with results on the field. Weiss, graduate student Ugo Achara Jr., and Brown finished as the top three NU goalscorers.

Coach Russell Payne said his seniors and graduate students helped change the culture of the program when he first arrived in 2021. They committed to a coach that had not recruited them out of high school and stayed firm in that commitment while the program rebuilt.    

“I’m so grateful for what they’ve brought and what they’ve done, and for how they bought in and believed,” Payne said. “They’re the ones responsible for the resurgence of this program.” 

NU won’t be playing in the NCAA Tournament this season, but the ’Cats far outperformed expectations, winning 10 games for the first time since 2014. NU was picked to finish second to last in the Big Ten at the start of the season. In Payne’s third year at the helm, his team finally contended in the Big Ten and looked like it could do so for the foreseeable future.

“The record you put together this year is in the history books, and you should be extremely proud of it,” Payne said, delivering a final message to his team. “It was a hell of a turnaround from one season to the next, and we did it because we got our culture right.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @colincapece 

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