With a 1-0 home loss to SMU on Thursday and a 4-0 defeat at the hands of Notre Dame in South Bend on Sunday, head coach Michael Moynihan and his Wildcats saw their season get off to a rough start.
Northwestern controlled three out of the four halves they played in their opening weekend clashes, but it wasn’t enough to get as much as a draw in either contest, with mental and physical miscues costing the young team. Against the Mustangs in their opener, despite outshooting their opponents 9-4 and taking the advantage in possession by controlling the ball for roughly 57% of the game (according to Amit Mallik of NUSports.com), an early penalty was the difference.
Coming off of an impressive (to say the least) first-year campaign, featuring ten shutouts, Mackenzie Wood allegedly committed the foul leading to the decisive score. Wood came out of her net, as she often does, challenging a Mustangs attacker for possession, and after a collision, drew the offending whistle. SMU’s Allie Thornton proceeded to convert, just 19 minutes into the first half.
The Wildcats earned a penalty of their own later in the half, but after grad transfer Taylor Hallmon’s initial shot was saved, her rebound was cleared off the line in a last-ditch sliding effort by SMU goalie Tatum Sutherland.
Northwestern had multiple chances to even the score in the second half, including a close-range shot attempt from first year Aurea Martin that went just over the bar and multiple opportunities from set pieces taken by junior Regan Steigleder, but were unable to convert.
After having ten players see their first action in a Wildcat uniform on Thursday, including Hallmon, sophomores Olivia Stone and Francesca Docters (who missed all of last season with injuries), and seven first years, Northwestern headed into South Bend with at least a bit of crucial experience. But it wasn’t enough.
After an impressive first half, which featured a couple of golden chances for the Wildcats including a close-range opportunity for Steigleder that was just barely saved by Fighting Irish goalkeeper Mattie Interian, NU could go into the break with a bit of confidence. But with a raucous near-capacity crowd of newly-arrived students behind them, the floodgates opened for Notre Dame in the second half.
The Irish struck for four straight goals, all coming within a 14-minute span early in the frame. The Wildcats finished with four shots on goal, but were unable to break their season-opening scoreless streak. Wood only managed two saves on the day before being replaced, but her defense and midfield certainly did her no favors, allowing quality chance after quality chance.
The learning experience for the young Wildcats, who have no seniors and just two graduate players on the roster, will certainly come in handy down the stretch of what will be a long season. But for now, Northwestern will need to find a way to turn things around in the next few days before a Thursday clash with Central Michigan. The ‘Cats then remain at Martin Stadium for another home matchup on Sunday against William & Mary.