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Women’s Soccer: ‘Cats No. 18 in United Coaches Poll after two ranked wins

When a tree falls in Evanston...

Photo courtesy of Ryan Kuttler and Northwestern Athletics

They did it. The United Soccer Coaches actually did it. Northwestern is ranked No. 18 in the nation in the latest poll. Let’s take a look at how they did it.

Sep. 8th vs No. 6 Stanford University

Just four days after their upset over No. 19 Xavier, the ‘Cats went and outdid themselves by knocking off a top-ten team in Stanford. Maybe these don’t need to be called upsets anymore. Northwestern has proved itself more than capable of defeating top-ranked competition, so let’s dissect its process.

This was already a high-profile matchup, just like it always is when Stanford comes to town. It’s a constant war over which university is the superior quarter system institution, and the academic caliber of the two only heightens the tension. This was Northwestern’s chance to refute the US News college rankings, and they seized the opportunity.

It was deadlocked for the first 22 minutes and 27 seconds. Why so specific, you may ask? Let me explain. That was the exact time your Northwestern Wildcats would choose their fate. A penalty inside Stanford’s own 18-yard box on Aurea del Carmen elicited a penalty kick for the ‘Cats, and as the team decided who would take the kick, they were also deciding their own destiny. Would they be the team who fought well and just came up short against the supposed sixth-best team in the nation, or would they stake their claim that they belonged in the upper echelon of women’s college soccer? Ultimately senior midfielder Rowan Lapi stepped up to take the kick, and in doing so, she made the team’s choice. A casual run-up led her to find the bottom left corner and in one fell swoop, Northwestern went up 1-0.

This lead held until the final whistle, much in part due to the tremendous effort of the Northwestern defense. The Cardinal only achieved one shot on target the entire game, a stark contrast from their average of 25.4 shots per game so far this season. Northwestern’s offense continued their pursuit of the back of the net but was unable to find any insurance. Fortunately, none was needed and the game ended 1-0 in Northwestern’s favor, completing its back-to-back ranked takedown. Celebrations ensued, but soon it was time to focus up and take on Butler.

Sep. 11th vs Butler University

This matchup is a rivalry as well, albeit in a different sort of way. It is a deeper, more primordial rivalry in an animalistic sense with the ‘Cats taking on the (Bull)dogs. The inferior pet but superior team (which is all that matters here) came out on top with Northwestern winning 1-0.

A rainy day in Evanston brought extra difficulty, but Northwestern was able to persevere. Junior midfielder Josie Aulicino snuck one past the keeper after assists from forwards Ella Hase and del Carmen, and that was enough for the ‘Cats. A seemingly poor offensive performance ensued for Northwestern, but keep in mind, it was raining cats and dogs. They only managed three shots in the end, but the Emma Phillips and Danika Austin-led defense covered for the offense.

Butler took nine shots with five on goal, but Northwestern’s goalkeeping tandem of first-year Reiley Fitzpatrick and grad transfer Mia Raben handled them easily. Fitzpatrick guarded the goal in the first half, saving one shot, and Raben took over after halftime to finish it out, totaling a season-high four saves.

The ‘Cats showed they can win when the offense isn’t at their best, which is an impressive show of resilience and defensive talent, as well as a valuable asset going into the Big Ten season.

Moving Forward

Those two wins were great, but that’s not all for this update. The ‘Cats had two players earn Big Ten Player of the Week honors. Lapi earned Defensive Player of the Week after her role in the two shutouts and, you know, her game-winning goal against Stanford. Raben claimed the other award of the week, winning Goalkeeper of the Week with five saves and two shutouts to her name. Defender Austin was also named to College Soccer News’ team of the week, a testament to her contributions on the back line.

The ‘Cats will be looking to extend their winning streak to six this week. Northwestern is back in action on Sunday with their Big Ten opener against Purdue. The powers-that-be decided to let Purdue see an actually nice college campus, so the Boilermakers will be visiting Martin Stadium at 1 PM CT, with streaming on B1G+. The next stop on the Big Ten tour is Lincoln, Neb. where the Cornhuskers lay in wait. The Wildcats will find out if the sadness (or maybe joy?) from the firing of Scott Frost impacts the soccer team’s performance when they take the field at 7:00 P.M. CT (B1G+ again).