After starting the season 1-0, Northwestern women’s soccer split its second and third outings against Penn State and Maryland, falling to the top-20 Nittany Lions 4-1 before defeating the Terps 1-0.
But even in the loss, head coach Michael Moynihan was pleased with his team’s fight early in the season.
“The final score, I felt, was not indicative of how the game went, especially given how many good chances we got in the second half,” he said after the Penn State game.
Moynihan’s general satisfaction with his team’s play in Thursday’s defeat was rewarded on Sunday when the Wildcats dominated Maryland all day long for their first win over the Terps in four years. A second-half goal from Olivia Stone provided the difference in the 1-0 victory. Northwestern outshot UMD 15-8, testing Maryland goalkeeper Kennedy Tolson relentlessly by keeping six of those shots on frame, including a few of real quality. The Terps directed just six efforts successfully, with Mackenzie Wood not forced into a single save outside of the 72nd minute.
The NU back line was calm and composed, bouncing back from an inconsistent effort against the uber-talented Nittany Lions to pitch their second shutout of the year. Sophomore center back Danika Austin and her counterpart Hallie Pearson, a junior transfer from Arizona, completely locked up the middle of the field, keeping Maryland’s forwards from even threatening for much of the day.
Meanwhile, the midfielders and attackers were consistently relentless, busting up any and all Maryland attempts at sustained possession and pushing their way into drawing 11 fouls, despite committing just six, and earning six corners in the second half alone. Stone’s goal came among a career-high four shots on target, helping force multiple diving saves.
To set up the score, after a run of sustained possession, star senior midfielder Regan Steigleder threatened around the edge of the box enough with possession to eventually be able to find Chloe McGhee to the outside. McGhee drove in a beautiful cross, which first year Josie Aulicino, for her first career assist, redirected nicely into the path of Stone, who cannily slotted it away.
An instinctive finish from Olivia Stone gives @NUWSoccer the lead!— Northwestern Athletics (@NU_Sports) February 28, 2021
Also, peep @ReganSteigleder bruising ankles and egos in the box #GoCats pic.twitter.com/BIfBGYPAYB
From there, the Wildcats continued to dominate, earning far more chances than Maryland over the remainder of the tie in what was a repeat of late-second half success with regards to pressure from the earlier contest against Penn State.
In that one, after going down a goal early due largely to a bad bounce after some frantic counterattack defending, the Wildcats pulled back level with an absolute stunner for Aulicino’s first career goal, and one of the best Northwestern as a team has scored in years.
Stop what you're doing. We have a #UPPER90SHOT alert from Josie Aulicino of @NUWSoccer— Northwestern Athletics (@NU_Sports) February 26, 2021
"That was a LASER beam."
Boom. Tie game. #GoCats pic.twitter.com/ElGpB5D5bH
From there, despite coming out much more aggressive after the break and having the better (by a little) of the early second-half break, the ‘Cats went down 2-1 on an unfortunate penalty calmly slotted away by 12th overall 2021 NWSL Draft pick Sam Coffey. Just six minutes later, Coffey’s gorgeous corner kick had set up another goal, and NU was well and truly in a hole.
Though they pumped in cross after cross and created plenty of near chances, the Wildcats never quite managed to climb out of it. In fact, PSU actually added another insurance goal to really finish things up with a tidy score of 4-1.
One reason the Northwestern defense looked so improved in the latter of the two games was the season debut of junior Julietta Thron, playing a central role as NU’s holding midfielder, who managed to return from injury in time for Sunday. Her presence should continue to bolster an already strong Wildcat back end headed forwards.
Next up, first-place (though tied with five others) Northwestern takes on 1-1-1 Minnesota in Minneapolis on Thursday for its first road trip of the young season before heading to Iowa on Monday in continuation of a frantic schedule that allows just a hair over three days off between contests on average.