Playoff women’s soccer was back in Evanston for the first time since 2017, and the ‘Cats were eager to make the most of it.
I am proud to report that they did. Let’s break down the team’s first playoff win in five years.
Oct. 30 vs. No. 20 Rutgers
Northwestern earned the two seed in the Big Ten tournament, meaning seventh-seeded Rutgers had the privilege of coming to Evanston once again this season (the teams drew in Evanston on Sept. 29).
On paper, this matchup was far closer than the seeding seemed to suggest. Both squads boast high-powered offenses, with each ranking in the top three in the conference in goals, assists and points. The defenses were no joke either, with Northwestern only allowing 12 goals in the regular season, and Rutgers not far behind with 14 allowed. Both units also came at the bottom of the table in saves, a testament to how steadfast the backlines were. Furthermore, both starting XIs were filled to the brim with All-B1G players (8-of-11 starters for Northwestern received honors, 6-of-11 for Rutgers). Now that the stage is set, time for the main event.
Both squads came out flying, striving to notch a victory. The usually airtight Wildcat defense cracked in the eighth minute, and Rutgers’ Riley Tiernan took advantage to sneak one past Mia Raben. This was a daunting situation for the ‘Cats, as they rarely played from behind this entire season, so it was time to prove what they were really made of.
Senior standout Rowan Lapi ultimately became the hero in the 22nd minute. Standing about 30 yards from the goal, Lapi saw her opportunity and took it, sending an absolute rocket straight past Rutgers netminder Meagan McClelland to tie the game at one apiece. Danika Austin and Lily Gilbertson were credited with assists, but in all honesty, this goal was all Lapi.
There was no looking back for NU after Lapi’s screamer. The Wildcats proceeded to dominate the rest of the game, maintaining a hefty majority of the possession. It was only a matter of time until the game-winning goal was to come.
Things were still knotted at one come halftime, but Nicole Doucette quickly changed that once play resumed. It appeared that she was trying to cross the ball into Aurea del Carmen or Gilbertson, but perhaps she was faking us all out. When the play was said and done, the ball was sitting in the back of the net. Rather then attempting to explain it any further, let me just show you the video so you can see how things unfolded for yourselves.
53' | GOAL! 'Cats on !— Northwestern Soccer (@NUWSoccer) October 30, 2022
This would prove to be the game-winning score, as the Northwestern defense kept the Rutgers offense stagnant for the rest of the half, leading to a 2-1 Wildcats victory.
The team was clearly ecstatic when the final whistle blew, and rightly so, but the job is not finished yet. Time to find out what the next hurdle to clear is.
As the number two seed in the tournament, the ‘Cats were set to face the winner of No. 3 Wisconsin and No. 6 Penn State, which took place a few hours after Northwestern’s victory. The Nittany Lions came out on top 1-0, and Northwestern’s semifinal matchup was set. The Wildcats did not face PSU in the regular season, so an entirely new challenge lies ahead. Penn State’s offense ranked just below Northwestern’s in most categories, so Michael Moynihan’s defense has another tough matchup this week.
The feline faceoff is set to take place Thursday, Nov. 3 at 3:30 P.M. CT in Columbus, Oh. Assuming that most readers will not make the trek, the game will be broadcast on Big Ten Network, so tune in to watch the ‘Cats vie for a spot in the Big Ten Championship match.