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Men’s Soccer: Senior Day win fires ‘Cats into Big Ten Tournament

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Postseason bound in their first year under a new coach. Not too shabby.

Northwestern Athletics

After a slow start to its season, Northwestern’s men’s soccer team has qualified for the 2021 Big Ten Tournament, capping off the regular season with a strong 3-1 victory Sunday against Michigan State.

Normally a day known for horror and tragedy, Halloween proved to be one of celebration and success for the ‘Cats. Entering the day sitting eighth in the conference standings (and ahead of Ohio State based on a head-to-head tiebreaker), their game would’ve determined their postseason fate had the Buckeyes closed the season with a win. A winning result, however, turned out to be relatively unnecessary, as Rutgers demolished OSU 4-0 an hour before the start of NU’s game, guaranteeing the Wildcats a spot in postseason play regardless of their result.

While qualification was no longer on the line, that didn’t mean there wasn’t any meaning to Northwestern’s upcoming proceedings at Lanny and Sharon Martin Stadium. Since it was the final home match of the season, the ‘Cats organized Senior Day festivities before kickoff. Five seniors — Richie Bennett, Bardia Kimiavi, Jose Del Valle, Connor McCabe and Julian Zighelboim — as well as five graduate students — Ethan Bandre, Miskovic, Quinn Dudek, Spencer Howard and Spencer Farina — were honored.

After the pregame ceremonies finished, NU prepared to face off against Michigan State, who sat just above them at seventh in the Big Ten standings. With a win, the Cats knew they’d leapfrog the Spartans and earn themselves the seventh seed in the Big Ten Tournament and, theoretically, an easier matchup.

That possibility seemed to provide plenty of motivation for Russell Payne’s men, and they got off to a rapid start, as has been the case plenty of times this season. The Vicente Castro to Justin Weiss connection has been hot all year, and it popped up again in the tenth minute to give the ‘Cats an early lead.

Unfortunately, as has also been the case often this year, Northwestern hasn’t been able to hang on to those early leads, and Sparty equalized just six minutes later.

However, it was indeed October 31, and strange, unexpected things tend to happen on Halloween. As such, for the first time this season, the ‘Cats were able to get back in front after giving away a lead. It took until the second half, but Spencer Farina broke the deadlock, bundling home the ball after a fatal error from the Michigan State goalkeeper.

The ‘Cats weren’t satisfied with two, and just a couple of minutes later, Weiss nodded home his second goal of the game off of a great cross from Jose Del Valle.

That would be the final score of the match for both teams, and it put an exclamation mark on what was already a stellar day for the team. With that win, the ‘Cats finished the regular season with a 6-8-2 record and went 3-5 in the Big Ten, which placed them in seventh out of nine participating schools.

Northwestern now looks ahead to the Big Ten tournament, where they will travel to College Park again to face Maryland on November 7 in a single-elimination knockout bracket. The Terps won 3-1 in their first encounter at the start of October, and if the ‘Cats are able to get their revenge, they will face the winner of Rutgers vs. Indiana on November 10.