It’s safe to say Coach Russell Payne has had his “Welcome to the Big Ten” moment as NU’s manager.
Northwestern went through the first third of its conference schedule over the last two weeks with a battle at home against No. 11 Indiana sandwiched between trips to Penn State and Michigan. Despite scoring first in two of the three matches, the ‘Cats failed to come away from this stretch with a single point, let alone a win, and they now sit at the bottom of the Big Ten standings.
Happy Valley was the first destination on NU’s Big Ten journey this season, and to be honest, the ‘Cats couldn’t have started that journey any better, as they struck first against the Nittany Lions. Vicente Castro sliced through Penn State’s defense on the right wing before serving the ball up on a platter for Justin Weiss, who couldn’t miss from close range.
While the ‘Cats were able to hold the lead until halftime, Penn State steadily grew into the game following the opener, and that spelled trouble for NU immediately after the break. Just 19 seconds into the second period, Liam Butts leveled for the Nittany Lions, and things quickly went from bad to worse for Northwestern as Butts completed his brace five minutes later. Penn State wouldn’t relinquish the lead for the rest of the match, with Butts’ second turning out to be the winner in a 2-1 contest. The ‘Cats shouldn’t have been too surprised by the result, as PSU outshot them 24-10 and also had the advantage on corner kicks by a margin of 7-2.
Up next was a great chance for the Wildcats to regain the taste of victory. It was a crisp, September weeknight at Lanny and Sharon Martin Stadium, students were back on campus and in the stands, and a Top 15 outfit, Indiana, was coming to town. Just like the Penn State match, Northwestern got off to a great start, with Castro calmly slotting away the opener off of a delightful flick from Weiss in the 6th minute. Both Castro and the crowd reacted appropriately to such a classy goal.
Unfortunately for the ‘Cats, the match unfolded in a way eerily similar to the one they had just played. After carrying the 1-0 lead to halftime, Northwestern was ambushed immediately following the break. Samuel Sarver scored the equalizer for the Hoosiers in 79 seconds, and Herbert Endeley put Indiana ahead for good five minutes later. In what turned out to be a very cagey and tight affair, with both teams combining for just 12 shots, NU emerged on the losing side of a 2-1 scoreline once again.
Now without a win in their last four matches, the Wildcats turned their attention to Michigan, who were coming into the match winless in their last two and also without a conference win. No matter how the game played out, one team was going home happy, and the Wolverines were determined to make sure it was them.
For the third game running, Northwestern gave up a goal within the first two minutes of a half, as Kevin Buca put Michigan ahead 69 seconds into the first. Buca wasn’t done, though, as he scored Michigan’s second in the 26th minute. Then, shortly into the second half, he completed his hat trick, likely putting the Wolverines out of NU’s reach. Weiss was able to grab a consolation goal for the ‘Cats in the 82nd minute, curling a strike with his right foot from about 30 yards past the keeper’s outstretched arms into the top corner.
Although Weiss will look back at that goal fondly, it’s a performance and result that the entire team will want to erase from their minds.
Northwestern has a couple of chances to get back into the win column this week at home against DePaul and Ohio State.