I’d like to start this post-mortem by flashing back to August 15th of this year, the day that the Big Ten Conference released its preseason poll for women’s soccer. In this poll, the head coaches in the conference ranked Northwestern 11th in the conference. This would prove to be a massive blunder.
In the months that followed this poll, the Wildcats built one of the best resumes in program history, culminating in a second-place B1G finish and a Sweet 16 run. They ended with a record of 16-5-2 and climbed all the way to fifth in the United Soccer Coaches poll. A 13-game unbeaten streak was thrown in for good measure as well. Let’s look at some highlights from this stellar season.
Emma Phillips’ Bicycle Kick
The world should have known that the ‘Cats were going to be special this season after seeing this Phillips banger in the first game of the season. I also think that everyone just needs to watch it again.
This goal was the game winner in the season opener, but this win over Kansas State also featured the first goal of the season for Caterina Regazzoni, the eventual B1G Freshman of the Year.
Upsets over No. 19 Xavier and No. 6 Stanford
Early September saw two straight top-20 upsets for the ‘Cats, taking down Xavier and Stanford 2-0 and 1-0, respectively. This was Northwestern’s announcement to the world that the team was here to compete. This stretch saw two goals from Rowan Lapi, showing off how well rounded of a player she was.
Breaking the unbeaten-streak record
Northwestern put its 10-game unbeaten streak on the line against top rival Illinois, and won in convincing fashion. This moved the marker to 11 consecutive games without a loss, a new school record. This streak would eventually reach 13 games before ending after a 2-1 loss to Michigan State.
This unbeaten streak also contributed to the Wildcats reaching fifth in the nation, which was their highest ranking ever.
Securing second place in the conference
Despite two late-season losses, Northwestern still managed to close out the season in second place in the conference. This tied for the highest finish in school history, and the ‘Cats entered the Big Ten Tournament as a two seed.
The Wildcats finished the conference play second in goals scored (23), second in assists (20) and third in goals against (9). Overall, Northwestern scored 44 goals (shattering the previous record of 29), notched 46 assists and only allowed 18 goals, good for an average of .78 goals allowed per game.
Eight different players earning All-B1G Honors.
After a stellar regular season, eight different Wildcats were awarded with All-B1G honors, the most in program history. Meg Boade was the lone first-teamer, ending the season with seven goals and two assists. Aurea del Carmen (six goals, five assists), Lapi (six goals, three assists), Phillips (three goals, two assists) and Mia Raben (58 saves, 14 goal allowed, 10-5-1 record) all were named to the second team. Last, but certainly not least, Josie Aulicino (nine goals, 10 assists), Regazzoni (three goals, three assists) and Danika Austin (one goal, three assists) all made the third team. Regazzoni was also the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, making her the first Northwestern player since 1996 to win the award (Erica Westrich).
Northwestern’s eight honorees were the most in the Big Ten. This feat is incredibly impressive when you remember that the ‘Cats were picked to finish 11th in the conference. It was these star players, along with the rest of the team, who propelled Northwestern into its Sweet 16 run.
First NCAA victories since 2017
Finally, this season saw Northwestern win its first NCAA tournament game since 2017 after a 3-0 victory over SIUE in the first round. The ‘Cats followed this up with a 2-1 vanquishment of Vanderbilt, which punched Northwestern’s ticket to its third ever Sweet 16. Unfortunately, the Wildcat’s season came to an end with a 2-0 loss to UCLA, but it was a remarkable season nevertheless.
These ‘Cats deserve all the praise and then some for their performance this season. They proved they could hang with the big dogs (cats) and showed the fanbase that they meant business. All Northwestern fans should be excited to see how Coach Michael Moynihan and Co. follow up this performance in 2023.