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How Northwestern Women’s Soccer can repeat success in 2023

After reaching the Sweet 16 last season, expectations surrounding the Wildcats are high.

A game between Northwestern Women’s Soccer and Marquette at Valley Fields in Milwaukee, WI on Thursday, August 17, 2023.
Ryan Kuttler/Northwestern Athletics

A 16-5-2 record with a Sweet 16 appearance is nothing to balk at, but that was last year. It is on to a new campaign for Northwestern women’s soccer, and with it comes new players and new challenges. Repeating 2022’s success is possible, and these keys to success can help the ‘Cats achieve that goal.

Dominate possession

Last season, Northwestern was able to have a dangerous offense and a stout defense simultaneously. The reason for that, aside from the obvious quality of the players on the pitch, was the Wildcat’s domination of the possession game. Controlling possession allows Northwestern’s talented offense the opportunity to create and make threatening runs, while also preventing the opponent from having any time to develop a coherent attack of their own.

The burden of maintaining and regaining possession usually lies with the midfield. Meg Boade and Caterina Regazzoni have shown their ability to collect loose balls and intercept passes, but other midfielders will need to step up to cover the loss of Rowan Lapi. Challenging on 50-50 balls and winning aerial duels will be crucial for the ‘Cats in their effort to control possession.

Spread out the scoring

This Northwestern offense has a number of capable goalscorers, namely Josie Aulicino (nine goals in 2022) and Meg Boade (seven goals in 2022). However, they will not be able to do all the scoring alone. In 2022, the Wildcats had 12 different players score goals, 10 of whom are still on the team. Spreading out the scoring allows the offense to be a constant threat. If multiple players can score, opposing defenses will never know where to look or who to mark.

Distribution will play a major role in allowing plenty of ‘Cats to find the back of the net. Last season, Northwestern registered 46 assists on 44 goals. Strong facilitation sets players up for easy scores, so through balls and effective wing play will be key.

The program record for goals in a season sits at 52, set in the 1997 season. That number could be topped this year, but it will take a team effort.

Maintain defensive excellence

The defense was a calling card for the ‘Cats last season. They allowed 18 goals, which was fourth lowest total in the Big Ten. This year, the entire back line of Danika Austin, Emma Phillips and Nicole Doucette return, and they will be bolstered by a new addition on the touchline.

Northwestern added Jennie Clark, a defensive-minded coach, to the staff this offseason, affirming a commitment to a strong defense. Clark’s experience in professional soccer will assist the ‘Cats as they seek to improve upon last season’s already impressive defensive showing.

There will be a new face in net for the Wildcats this season with sophomore Reiley Fitzpatrick receiving the first start of the season; however, it is still an open competition between her and graduate transfer Gina Muzi. Regardless of who is between the sticks, it will be their duty to command the defense

Use set pieces effectively

The set piece, when executed correctly, can lead to some of the most beautiful goals in soccer. Northwestern fans are familiar with set piece success, especially from Phillips. The center back has already scored on a corner this season, and she is always a threat to score within the eighteen. Effective set pieces will also help fulfill the goal of getting multiple players involved, as anyone can be a threat on a well-placed ball. Corner and free kicks can lead to easy goals; Northwestern just needs to take advantage.

Lay the foundation for lasting success

Northwestern proved last season that it can compete in the current Big Ten, but the conference is about to get a lot harder thanks to the West Coast invasion. While this season is about repeating that success, it is also about gearing up for 2024 and beyond. This will take a team effort, especially on the part of the upperclassmen. Those who have been in the program for a while will need to mentor the younger and newer players, instilling within them the work ethic and resolve required to build a lasting elite program. Now that the Wildcats have had a taste of consistent top-25 rankings, they won’t want to return to mediocrity. Establishing a strong program culture this year will allow Northwestern to remain amongst the blue bloods and become a prominent name for years to come.