After a 6-0-2 start to the season, the Wildcats finally kicked off the Big Ten portion of their season on Sep. 17. Their first opponent: the Purdue Boilermakers.
Northwestern took care of business, 1-0, but it was clear that the Big Ten would be a different beast than NU’s non-conference slate. This victory can be used as a learning opportunity upon the ‘Cats quest for their first Big Ten Championship.
1. Need more shots
All Sunday against Purdue, Northwestern dominated possession. What the ‘Cats did not dominate was shots. They struggled to create many chances at all, save for an Ella Hase goal that was called offsides. Purdue ended up out-shooting Northwestern, 10-9. That won’t work against the likes of Michigan State and Penn State.
The return of Josie Aulicino should assist with this task. She was relatively quiet Sunday with only one shot, but she is still one of the best scorers and facilitators in the Big Ten. She already has four goals and six assists in only six games played this season, so her comeback should keep Northwestern’s offense as a force to be reckoned with.
2. Reiley Fitzpatrick is HER
At the start of the season, I addressed the goalkeeper question. Would it be rising sophomore Reiley Fitzpatrick or graduate transfer Gina Muzi? Nine games into the season, we have our answer. Fitzpatrick has seized the starting role, establishing herself as the anchor of the Wildcat defense. No. 1 has started all 9 games, playing a total of 781 minutes. She’s allowed only seven goals while making 21 saves with three shutouts to her name.
On Sunday, Fitzpatrick played with the poise of a four-year starter en route to the shutout victory. She made three critical saves in contest, coming off her line at the opportune time to deny Purdue any goals. With the goalie position taken care of, the rest of the team can focus on scoring without worrying about who is between the sticks.
3. Win with grit
It looked at times on Sunday like the ‘Cats were going to have to settle for a draw. Reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year Caterina Regazzoni made sure that didn’t happen. In the 57th minute, she stood over a free kick just outside of the box. Seconds later, the ball found itself sailing into the top bin before settling nicely into the back of the net.
Regazzoni goes top bins! pic.twitter.com/58NRb1k8dy— Northwestern Soccer (@NUWSoccer) September 17, 2023
Whether it be breaking a stalemate or coming from behind against Virginia Tech, Northwestern knows how to win games. That skill cannot be undervalued. Even when they’re not performing up to their own lofty standards, the ‘Cats are able to come out on top — an invaluable asset. If they can keep that up throughout Big Ten play, the rest of the conference is in trouble.
Next up for the Wildcats is Michigan. The Wolverines will traverse across the lake to take on Northwestern on Thursday, Sep. 21, at 7:00 p.m. CT. Like Purdue, Michigan was a Big Ten bottom-feeder last season. It will be up to the ‘Cats to prove they learned from their contest against the Boilermakers and take care of business.