The Wildcats kicked off the 2021 season with a four-game long road trip culminating in a matchup against No. 2 ranked North Carolina before returning to Evanston for their home opener. Though a 2-3 record may not be indicative of a successful start, several bright spots ,including an impressive comeback versus Kent State at Martin Stadium on September 5, showed there is definitely some hope left to be had before conference play ensues.
NU began the road trip in Ohio at Xavier University on August 22. A set piece delivered by sophomore Josie Aulicino found the head of junior Aurea Martin just 15 minutes before halftime for the ‘Cats’ first goal of the season, putting NU in the lead after the first 45. Unfortunately, despite a slew of offensive pressures and a six-save performance from goalkeeper Mackenzie Wood, Xavier pulled ahead with goals in the 53rd and 65th minutes, downing Northwestern by a score of 2-1 in the end.
Next, the ‘Cats moved back west to Indiana where they met the Butler Bulldogs and suffered their second loss of the season. An 80 minute scoring drought was enough to give Butler a comfortable lead of 3-0, making a late goal from senior Haley Lawson nothing more than a garbage time score, not enough to redeem a slow first half of play from Northwestern.
Fortunately, though, Lawson’s lone goal did inspire a four score performance from the ‘Cats in their next outing at William & Mary. The dynamic duo of Aulicino and Martin collected a goal each, and sophomore forward Meg Boade also tacked on a goal in her first career start. A cross from junior Lily Gilbertson deflected into the back of the net to round out the scoresheet for NU’s first win of the season, a 4-0 rout of their CAA opponents.
The climax of the road trip was a meeting with powerhouse North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Though the ‘Cats only faced a one-goal deficit for the majority of the game due to a successful Tarheel set piece, a late goal sealed the loss and Northwestern fell 2-0 on their last stop away from home.
The ‘Cats returned to Evanston with a chip on their shoulder, and that certainly showed in a stellar performance against Kent State. Down 2-0 at the half, it was the magic of Aulicino that drove an NU victory. The sophomore scored a goal herself while also adding two assists to her stat sheet, one of which contributed to a Regan Steigleder goal from potentially the tightest angle ever scored at in Martin Stadium.
Sophomore Ingrid Falls rounded out the scoresheet with a tap in off a deflected cross to welcome the ‘Cats back home with a 3-2 win.
While the season is just beginning, both Aulicino and Martin are shaping up to have breakout seasons. Aulicino already boasts the most assists in the conference with five as well as two goals already in her bag. Martin, though her stat line is not as impressive as Aulicino’s just yet, has the ability to slip in between defenders and slot passes through the back line that is comparable to the best players in the conference.
It’s clear from their recent win that the ‘Cats are on their way to fully forming a team identity that will have the potential to make a postseason run, they just need to make sure all the right pieces are in place.
Northwestern’s next matchup takes place tonight at 6 p.m. CST against Illinois State and can be viewed through ESPN+.