The women’s soccer team concluded their season Saturday at Michigan State with a win to complete a three-game winning streak finishing 10th in the conference and 7-10-2 overall, missing the Big Ten tournament though(top 8 of 12 make it). The record doesn’t sound great on the surface especially considering they started 4-2-2 and had an eight-game skid starting conference play up until the aforementioned three-game win-streak, however, the way the program functioned under first-year head coach Michael Moynihan and assistant David Nikolic is reason for optimism.
I profiled Moynihan, who picked up his 200th career win in the team’s final game this season, in the preseason and after one season at the helm there is no reason to believe that he will not replicate the success that he had at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee for 19 years. The Northwestern women’s soccer program improved by five games (2-16-1 last year) under the new regime, but it was the change in the culture and style of play that was most impressive.
The team had every reason to mail it in sitting at 4-10-2, mathematically eliminated from Big Ten tournament contention, but the players and coaches dug in and salvaged the three game winning streak providing momentum for the program moving forward. A mutual investment between the coaching staff and players was evident as the coaches wanted to win the final game to send off the seniors well, while the players were itching to get Moynihan and Nikolic to 200 wins, despite only being apart of six to date. Even through the losing streak the team was competitive in nearly every game and played a much more attractive brand of soccer that saw them play a possession-oriented style connecting passes through the back and midfield rather than just booting downfield and hoping a front-runner would get on the end of it. Moynihan empowered his players and put his personnel in a position to succeed while creating a competitive environment day in, day out. All the players bought into the team concept and there was no quit in the group.
Centerbacks Bri Westlund and Jackie Alynovich were stalwarts in the back all year implementing a tough attitude into the squad and starting the attack with calm and composed play. Midfielders Niki Sebo (5 G) and Georgia Waddle (4 G, 2 A, daughter of Bears legend Tom Waddle) have strong skill sets that were displayed in flashes throughout the year. With more consistency, each could compile an All-Big Ten quality campaign in the future. Junior forward Kate Allen continued to have a nose for the goal with seven goals and three assists to lead the team and is now eighth on the all-time NU scoring list with 18 career goals with one season left. Much young talent was also infused into the line-up as six freshmen saw significant minutes highlighted by former US U-18 national team member Margo McGinty and backline mainstay Jennifer Korn. The team will lose one starter for next season in senior captain Westlund, but everyone else is coming back along with another talented incoming class expected.
There is talent returning and stability in the leadership of the program. We are currently witnessing a program in Field Hockey that, similar to women's soccer, was struggling and stagnant for years until Tracey Fuchs took over in 2009. Since then, they made strides each year changing the identity and are now a top 10 team this season. With Moynihan’s track record of success along with the overall upward trend of Northwestern athletics and facilities plan in place, women’s soccer could be the next NU sport ascending.