A regular season that saw Northwestern achieve its highest ranking in program history has come to a close. Words can hardly describe this magical season, but I will try, just as I have done all season. Before getting into the Wildcats’ accomplishments and what the future holds, however, we have one more regular-season game to recap.
Oct. 23 vs. No. 17 Ohio State
Northwestern stumbled into Columbus for this matchup, the team still reeling from two straight losses to Michigan State and Iowa. Ninety minutes later, that bad taste had dissipated, and the ‘Cats ended their regular season on a high note with a 2-0 victory over the Buckeyes.
Emma Phillips wanted to quickly prove to the world that Northwestern’s last two matchups were a fluke. It was the 17th minute when she decided to direct a lofty Josie Aulicino corner kick straight into the back of the net for her third goal of the season. This goal put the Wildcats ahead for the first time in 197 minutes, so it was much-needed in terms of course correction.
(•_•)— Northwestern Soccer (@NUWSoccer) October 23, 2022
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Meg Boade must’ve really wanted to hammer Phillips’ point home, because she scored Northwestern’s second goal just two minutes later. Aurea del Carmen did well to evade defenders and take her space before spotting Boade making a run directly into the center of the 18. Boade collected the pass, and at that point, the Buckeyes should’ve known it was over for them. An easy flick from Boade practically teleported the ball into the back of net, and that was that.
These two first-half goals would be enough for the ‘Cats, as the defense held fast. Mia Raben made four saves, marking the fifth time that she protected the goal four or more times this season. Raben also has six games in a row with at least three saves (NU is 4-2 in that span), so she seems to be in good form with the postseason around the corner.
With this win, Northwestern secured sole possession of the No. 2 seed in the Big Ten, making it the third time in program history that the team earned a top-two seed in the conference. On that note, let’s see what’s in store for the ‘Cats as the postseason rolls around.
“Sometimes you gotta go back to actually move forward.”
Matthew McConaughey postulated this in those weird Lincoln commercials, and he might have a point (or at least his accent makes it sound like he does). We’re going to take a page out of his book and do a recap of the regular season before moving on to the ‘Cats road to postseason glory.
The ‘Cats finished this season ranked 12th in the nation with a 13-3-2 record (7-2-1 in Big Ten), which is their best season since 2016 (16-3-4, 7-1-3 in conference). I mentioned before that Northwestern earned its highest ranking ever when the United Soccer Coaches ranked it fifth in their Oct. 11th poll, but that is not the only achievement this season from the Wildcats. The team scored its most goals ever in Big Ten play, netting 23 over 10 games. Furthermore, they scored 37 total goals in all competitions, good for third-most in the Big Ten, and notched 38 assists, putting them second in the conference. These impressive feats also contributed to the longest unbeaten streak in school history, which reached 13 games before ending at the hands (feet?) of Michigan State.
On an individual level, the team had a number of stellar season-long performances from players in all grades. I’m almost positive that I have mentioned the trio of Aulicino (22 points; seven goals; eight assists), del Carmen (17 points; six goals; five assists) and Boade (14 points; six goals; two assists) in every single update this season. What’s even more impressive, however, is that those three only accounted for 47% of the team’s points, 51% of the Wildcats’ goals, and 39% of the squad’s assists.
Let me elaborate. Typically, when a team has players who put up offensive numbers to the likes of these three, they would be expected to make up a much larger portion of the total offensive production. We’re not seeing this here, however. That means that the rest of the team made major contributions to the ‘Cats’ offensive prowess. This includes Rowan Lapi and her penalty kick prowess (13 points; five total goals, four of which were game-winners and three penalty kick goals; three assists); Ella Hase and her fantastic feats at forward (13 points; four goals; five assists); first-year phenom Caterina Regazzoni (eight points; three goals; two assists; 17 games started (out of 18)); Phillips, who more is than just a cyclist (eight points; three goals; two assists; one amazing bicycle kick that was snubbed from the SportsCenter Top Ten); and Lily Gilbertson and her wonderful work on the wings (six points, one goal, two assists). This level of whole-team offensive production will prove crucial in the postseason, where having multiple players who can score may be the difference between a championship and a soul-crushing defeat.
Offense is not the only place this team shined (if it was, the team would probably not be getting this level of attention). The sturdy defense came to the rescue multiple times, with thrilling goal line clearances and exquisite equalizer prevention. The back-three of Danika Austin, Nicole Doucette and Phillips worked in tandem with the goalkeeping duo of Raben (18 games played, seven starts) and first-year Reiley Fitzpatrick (11 games played, 11 starts) to allow only 12 goals over the course of the season. The unit stood firm for eight clean sheets, and only allowed two goals in three games (4-2 win at Nebraska, 2-1 loss vs Michigan State, 2-1 loss vs Iowa). The goalies combined for 51 saves (46 for Raben, five for Fitzpatrick), and their heroic efforts kept Northwestern competitive in games where it may have been otherwise outmatched.
I imagine that you’re sitting right now thinking to yourself, “Wow, with all of these great individual performances, did the players earn any honors?” This is a valid question, and I am happy to inform you that they earned many, many honors. Let’s break it down.
Regazzoni led the way with three different accolades, the first being Big Ten Freshman of the Year (!!!). She was also named to the All-B1G Third Team and the All-Freshman Team to cap off a stellar season for the Swiss national.
Next up on the list is Boade, who was named to the All-B1G First Team, followed by del Carmen, Lapi, Phillips and Raben, who were all selected to the All-B1G Second team. That’s not all, though. Aulicino and Austin join Regazzoni on the All-B1G Third Team, and sophomore Kelsey Kwon rounds it out by being chosen as the team’s Sportsmanship Award Honoree.
You could make the case that most of the starting lineup deserved to be on the First Team, but I like to think that the Big Ten needed to make it fair for the other teams around the conference. Any way you put it, though, these honors were much-deserved and further drive home how great of a regular season this team had.
Now that the recap is out of the way, let’s dig into what lies ahead for the Wildcats.
First up on the postseason slate is the Big Ten Tournament. As the No. 2 seed, Northwestern will be playing its first round matchup here in Evanston at what the team dubbed “the best setting in college soccer.”
I’ll let you decide for yourself, but in my humble opinion, they’re not wrong.
Rutgers will be coming into town once again for this Oct. 30 matchup. The last time these teams met was a 1-1 draw on Sept. 29, so the ‘Cats will be hunting for a better result this time out. Kickoff is t 12 P.M. CST, and admission is free for everyone, so there is no reason for those in the area not to come out and catch the Wildcats’ first home playoff game since 2017. It will also be streaming on B1G+ for those unable to make it to Martin Stadium.
If Northwestern is victorious, then its next matchup will be against the winner of Wisconsin vs. Penn State on Thursday, Nov. 3 at 3:30 P.M. CST. The ‘Cats already beat Wisconsin 2-1 this season, but they did not face Penn State. Winning in the semifinals (which are taking place in Columbus, Oh.) would pit Northwestern against whichever squad remains out of Michigan State, Nebraska, Ohio State and Minnesota, but we’ll cross that bridge when (or if) we get to it.
Looking even further into the future (I should take up fortune-telling at this point), the ‘Cats seem to have a pretty good chance to make the NCAA tournament, regardless of what happens in the Big Ten Tournament. Thirty-two teams make the tournament, and Northwestern is being projected as a No. 3 seed by NCAA.com’s Alberto Camargo.
There’s lots to look forward to this postseason for the ‘Cats, so pay attention to our coverage here at Inside NU to keep up with all the action.