With the Big Ten women’s soccer season kicking off Thursday, Northwestern will finally take the pitch again Saturday night against Indiana. The Wildcats will play a conference game at Ryan Fieldhouse for the first time and look to start their season on a high note against a solid Hoosier team.
Led by ninth-year head coach Michael Moynihan, NU comes into the season with high hopes to build upon 2019’s below-average campaign in its eleven-game conference schedule.
Northwestern was young, inexperienced and not very good in 2019. The defensive-minded team that struggled to score, netting more than one goal in a game just four times all season. The Wildcats finished with an overall record of 5-10-3 and 3-6-2 in conference, good for a 10th place finish in the Big Ten. But they ended their season on a low note, dropping four of their last five and failing to qualify for the Big Ten Tournament.
Although the team’s record might not inspire optimism, Moynihan gave his younger players a lot of playing time. He started five freshmen and four sophomores in the team’s penultimate game before Senior Day. It remains to be seen how that added experience for those underclassmen will translate into this season, but their hope is that it will result in more goals and more victories.
Northwestern lost only three players following the 2019 season, graduating two of them, a sign of how young the team was last year. All three saw playing time, but none were major contributors for the Wildcats.
The most notable loss is forward Mikayla Hampton, who transferred to Louisville. The senior out of Cincinnati had a team-high five points, scoring two goals and notching an assist. She started three games and played just 409 minutes.
Northwestern also lost midfielder Olivia Korhonen, who made 18 appearances and two starts. She totaled a goal and an assist in her final year in Evanston.
The third loss is defender Taylor Hallmon out of Florida. Hallmon played 538 minutes and appeared in nine games for the Wildcats, starting six of them.
Northwestern enters the 2021 season retaining most of its starters and key contributors. Expect these players in particular to have an impact this year.
The junior goalkeeper has been a mainstay in the lineup since she won the starting job in her first season and earned Big Ten All-Freshman team honors. Now entering her third year with the Wildcats, Wood will look to build off a strong 2019 in which she finished second in the conference with 4.2 saves per game. Her strong play is noticed by opponentst, as she was voted one of the Big Ten Women’s Players to Watch heading into the 2021 season.
The fourth-year starter returns to Evanston having led the team in minutes as a junior. She also tied for the top of the team stat sheet with two goals and five total points. She earn Third Team All-Big Ten honors for her efforts.
The rising sophomore returns following a stellar rookie campaign at outside back. With plenty of skill on the ball, Austin led the team in assists (and tied for the team lead in total points), developing a penchant for dangerous runs down the flanks. That’s in addition to her 17 starts solidifying a consistently stout Wildcat defense.
Thron was a critical presence for the Wildcats on defense last season, starting all 18 games. The second player in the program to earn Third Team All-Big Ten honors in 2019, the Caldwell, New Jersey, native will be an important part of a large returning core.
The Wildcats brought in a class of nine from across the Midwest (and Colorado). It looks to be an attack-minded group, with half of the newest arrivals listed on the team site as forwards.
One player to keep an eye on is Lone Tree, Colorado, native Meg Boade, whose sister Tess was just drafted into the NWSL by Sky Blue out of Duke. The younger Boade is a forward who was ranked as a four-star recruit by topdrawersoccer.com, and has extensive experience in the former US Soccer Development Academy system. Given Northwestern’s lack of production up front, it’s possible that Boade could see time early on.
Midfielder Josie Aulicino could be another newcomer to watch, as the Michigan Hawks alum consistently impressed in Elite Clubs National League play over her youth career, earning her a four-star ranking as well by Top Drawer. Considering the inexperience and youth of NU’s midfield, Aulicino too might see early minutes.
2021 Season Outlook
Northwestern likely won’t contend for a conference title or even an NCAA Tournament berth this season, but it should make strides from 2019 and set up as a threat next season. After an extended offseason of practice, a season of experience under the belts of the underclassmen, and some exciting new talent coming to Evanston, Michael Moynihan’s squad could make a notable jump in the Big Ten standings.
The ‘Cats are projected to finish seventh in the Big Ten women’s soccer preseason poll, a slight improvement from 2019’s 10th place finish, but that potential jump hinges on the growth and development of Moynihan’s players.
The biggest question is whether or not NU will be able to muster enough offense to keep up with Big Ten powerhouses like Penn State and Wisconsin, each of which it plays this season. The Wildcats’ highest scorer in 2019 had just two goals, and someone will need to step up on the offensive side of the pitch for them to find more success. If they can do that, the dynamic changes.