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Women’s Soccer: Dominant first round victory sets up second round matchup with Vanderbilt

One down, five to go.

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There is no more room for error at this point in the season, and Northwestern is clean so far. In the team’s first NCAA Tournament action since 2018, the junior class came up clutch to secure the victory. Let’s break it down.

Nov. 12 vs Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

The first cold spell of the season was no match for the Wildcats, and the Cougars from Edwardsville were even less of a threat. Coach Moynihan’s squad dismantled SIUE, giving it some serious flashbacks to the Aug. 25 matchup (a 5-0 NU win). Dominance was the name of the game, with Northwestern flexing its muscle en route to a 3-0 victory.

The ‘Cats were off to a slow start, at least by their terms. Affairs were still scoreless by the 38th minute, but bionic Meg Boade was out to change that. After receiving the ball from Ella Hase, Boade activated her electromagnet and took on three SIUE defenders. She diced them up and weaved her way into a one-on-one with the goalie before blasting the ball into the back of the net, putting Northwestern up 1-0.

It looked like things were going to stay at 1-0 going into the half, but Josie Aulicino had other plans. She scored in the 44th minute with a shot that surprised everyone, including maybe herself. The Cougars made the mistake of giving Aulicino any space to breathe, and she made them pay, rifling a 30-yard banger straight into the top left corner.

Vibes were already high, and Aulicino took them to another level going into the half with that shot. The Wildcats weren’t content to sit back and park the bus, however. They went with the mantra of “the best defense is a good offense” instead and came out firing to start the second half.

The ‘Cats kept the pedal to the metal, barely letting SIUE touch the ball. Northwestern took 10 straight unanswered shots before converting in the 76th minute. All it took was a set piece, where the Wildcats have been so effective all season, to finally slot the third goal home. Aulicino, per usual, lined up to take the free kick and swung it into the box where Ingrid Falls was waiting. Falls took advantage of the chaos and floated it over the head and outstretched arms of SIUE keeper Taylor Spiller to give Northwestern a commanding 3-0 lead.

It was all but over at that point, and Coach Moynihan subbed off his stars to give some of his other players an appearance in the NCAA Tournament. When all was said and done, Northwestern totaled 24 shots with 10 on goal, compared to SIUE’s one shot, which, to be fair, was on goal. Although the scoreboard may not reflect it, the Cougars defended their tails off and survived repeated Northwestern onslaughts. Spiller had seven saves, shutting down surefire goals time and time again.

For Northwestern, this dichotomy in shots was certainly a blessing given the fact that it was missing its All-B1G Second Team center back Emma Phillips. Senior Danika Austin filled in at the central role, and Hase returned to her old haunts in the back line like it was yesterday. Rowan Lapi helped out as well, dropping into an even more defensive role than usual, which was critical in holding SIUE to only one shot.

This win allowed Northwestern to advance in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2017, so let’s see what is in store for the Wildcats.

Moving Forward

Thanks to the way things shook out with the bracket, Northwestern will get to escape the Evanston cold in favor of sunny Los Angeles. The ‘Cats will not be taking on future Big Ten foe UCLA, though, or at least not yet. Before securing a spot in the Sweet 16 against the winner of one-seed UCLA and UCF, the Wildcats must first beat the Northwestern of the SEC: Vanderbilt.

The two academic powerhouses will face off on Friday at 6 p.m. CT, marking the first time the Wildcats will take on an SEC opponent since 2015 (0-0 draw vs Missouri). Unlike Northwestern, Vanderbilt is an unseeded team, but despite that, the Commodores still knocked off five-seed Clemson on their path to the second round. The ‘Dores are 12-4-4 overall, finished third in the SEC East and suffered a second-round loss to Alabama in the SEC Tournament. They rank around the middle of the SEC in most statistical categories. Four Vanderbilt players earned All-SEC honors, with midfielder Raegan Kelley and defender Maya Antoine on the first team, defender Ella Shamburger on the second team, and midfielder Hannah McLaughlin on the All-Freshman team.

Based on this, the Friday night matchup looks to feature a plethora of battles in the midfield, and time will tell if Northwestern’s high powered offense will be able to crack the Vanderbilt back line. Catch all the action on ESPN+, and hopefully next time you hear from me, it will be because of another Wildcat win.