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Northwestern women’s soccer season preview

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Moynihan and Co. look to capture their second Big Ten Regular Season title.

@NU_Sports on Twitter.

The Basics

Head Coach: Michael Moynihan

2020 Record: 6-6-1

Goals for: 14

Goals against: 12

Overview

Though a season sitting at around .500 may not seem like an accomplishment, it is a much needed improvement for this Northwestern women’s soccer team — an improvement that could act as a meaningful transition into their first full season in two years. After a disappointing 2019 season in which the ‘Cats lost or tied 13 of their 18 games, several bright spots arose during the modified 2020 season and are a reason to expect success in the future for this team. Northwestern’s three leading goal scorers in Regan Steigleder, Olivia Stone and Aurea Martin all return this fall as head coach Michael Moynihan seeks a second Big Ten regular season championship and 14th NCAA tournament berth.

Struggles in 2020

2020’s limited season (aka the 2021 spring season) doesn’t offer a whole lot in terms of the relative sample size of statistics, but some numbers are still worth reflecting on heading into the fall. One notable number is the shot-on-goal percentage of below 50%. Though last season’s 46% is an improvement from 2019, the ‘Cats are going to have to find a way to hit the frame just a bit more if they’re serious about making a Big Ten tournament run.

Additionally, despite boasting 14 goals for to 12 against, only two of their six wins were won by more than one goal, and four of the 14 to hit the back of the net came in one contest versus Nebraska. Half of their losses were the result of a singular goal as well. If this Northwestern team can find a way to convert just a few more of their shots on goal, they could potentially turn those one-goal-losses into wins (or at least draws) this year. They need a bit more finesse and aggression on the offensive end, and a continuation of solid defense and goalkeeping can turn their from a middle-of-the-field team to a serious conference contender.

Reasons for optimism in 2021

Despite offensive struggles in the spring, there are several reasons to be hopeful that the ‘Cats will improve just a few months removed from last season’s end. Northwestern returns nearly all of their players, including their three leading goal-scorers and assist leaders. Without any holes lingering in loss of production, improving from last season should be straightforward, as there is little to no rebuilding needed.

Also of note is that of the goals that were scored last season, many of them were high quality goals, shots that college-level keepers had little to no chance at saving (see Steigleder’s goal against Nebraska and Josie Aulicino’s first career goal to get the gist). NU’s players aren’t afraid to take shots, it’s just a matter of them hitting the back of the net. The defense, as led by goalkeeper Mackenzie Wood, was solid throughout the 13-game season. All they need to do is continue to communicate through the midfield with the offensive third to control the flow of the game.

One final bullet point for this upcoming season lies in the coaching staff with the addition of Rich Manning to the assistant team. Manning has a wealth of coaching experience at the DI level, having come from a head coaching position at the University of Utah. There he pulled in five Mountain West Conference championships before the Utes joined the Pac-12 as well as eight chances at an NCAA tournament title, to name just a few of his career accomplishments. With the added creativity, Manning can bring in addition to the experience already hosted by the players, meaning Northwestern has a real chance at making a Big Ten Tournament run.

Players to watch

M Josie Aulicino

The now sophomore Aulicino burst onto the scene in her first season and began to make noise as early as her second on-field appearance when she scored her first career goal. Linked here again, in case you didn’t get enough above, it was a complete screamer against Big Ten powerhouse Penn State, and it put Aulicino on the map. The Michigan native started all 13 games during her first year and led the Wildcats with three assists along with teammate Mari Annest. She capped off her season by being named to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team and looks to improve on a successful start to her career in the coming months.

GK Mackenzie Wood

This should come as no surprise, as Wood has consistently been a top flight threat in the Big Ten since her freshman year. The senior keeper is the anchor of Northwestern’s defense, leading the team to a shutout in all six of their wins last season. Arguably her best game came under pressure in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament, where Wood shut out Purdue with five saves to propel the Wildcats into the second round before they unfortunately exited the tournament in an overtime loss to Wisconsin. Nonetheless, Wood shines with or without pressure and is poised for a stellar senior season at Martin Field.