Defense wins championships, right?
Northwestern and Butler were locked in a stalemate for almost two hours on Saturday, but the Wildcats advanced to the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament courtesy of two penalty saves by goalkeeper Lauren Clem, who had another vintage performance in what could’ve been the final game of her collegiate career. It was the thinnest of margins, but Northwestern and head coach Michael Moynihan will take it.
Northwestern women’s soccer is no stranger to defensive battles, and the unit rebounded well after conceding two heartbreaking late goals to Penn State the week before. The back line of Kayla Sharples, Hannah Davison, Kassidy Gorman and McKenna Angotti neutralized almost all pressure from Butler. Things got nervy at times, but when leaks did happen, Clem was able to come up with a save. She had four on the afternoon during regulation, but still managed to save two more in the shootout.
“I think we’ve been pretty fortunate with our penalty kicks, in our career, David [Nikolic, assistant coach] and I, for the 26 years we’ve been coaching,” Moynihan said. The 0-0 tie was reminiscent of Northwestern’s last win on penalty kicks, a win over Nebraska in the Big Ten Tournament. This is Northwestern’s third consecutive year making the Round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats always seem to turn up the defensive intensity in the Tournament, having conceded one goal in its last four NCAA Tournament contests.
Clem certainly bailed out Northwestern’s offense, who toiled for 110 minutes but never got the golden scoring opportunity it needed to edge in front. I mean, it ended up fine, but Butler’s two goalkeepers only needed to make one save over 110 minutes. Northwestern’s best chance at scoring came from a Madi Kennel strike that rattled the crossbar midway through the second half. Thankfully, neither offense could manage much on a cold, windy day at Martin Stadium, and Northwestern’s advantage in the goalkeeping department proved to be the difference.
“We’re a scrappy team,” Clem said. “We are first to every ball, we’re hard on tackles, we don’t let them get anything easy.”
That scrappiness was on full display on Sunday, and it will certainly travel with Northwestern as it heads to Los Angeles for the next challenge. Northwestern will next face No. 2 seed UCLA at 10 p.m. CST in the Round of 32.