Happy summer! All summer long (once a week), we’ll be previewing either a Northwestern fall sport or one of Northwestern football’s twelve regular season matchups. First up: – Women’s soccer:
The year 2016 was a banner year for Northwestern women’s soccer, both figuratively and literally. At 16-3-4 (7-1-3 B1G), it stood as one of the best runs in the program’s history, and on top of that, the team claimed a share of the Big Ten regular season title.
The core of 2016’s successful squad returns, and 2017 could be another fantastic year for the Wildcats.
Victories under head coach Michael Moynahan have come when the Wildcats are strong at the back, and fortunately for them, they return the majority of the pieces that made last season so strong defensively.
Goalkeeper Lauren Clem, the program record holder in clean sheets, returns between the sticks.
See: Our 2016 feature on Lauren Clem
In front of her will be a pair of juniors at the centre back position: Kayla Sharples and Hannah Davison. While Kassidy Gorman spent portions of last year playing in a more advanced role, 2017 should see her return to her usual left back position, meaning NU will return 80 percent of a defense that conceded a goal just seven times all last season. Senior Nikia Smith will be the preferred right back for Moynahan, but she could also push up into a more midfield role if need be.
The Wildcats lose midfield anchor Nandi Mehta, but should still be able to have a strong defensive midfield featuring Michelle Chernesky, Marisa Viggiano and others.
Barring a complete collapse at the back, Northwestern will be an incredibly strong defensive side, meaning they’ll be competitive in just about every single match that they play. But what could determine the ultimate fate of this team is the ability for Moynahan’s bunch to score goals at a higher rate than the one outputted in 2016 — 1.26 per game.
Brenna Lovera showed great improvement in 2016, bagging six goals before tearing her ACL in a mid-season loss to Rutger. If Lovera is able to return to full strength, an admittedly large if, she could lead the line for Northwestern and improve on those six goals.
Maddy Lucas impressed in spurts last season, and if she’s given a bit more time on the pitch, she could turn into a bona fide goalscorer for the Wildcats in 2017.
After bringing in just two freshmen last year, Moynahan has added seven newcomers to the squad this year, and while it’s hard to envision all of them featuring heavily, it would not be surprising to see a few, especially forwards like Regan Steigleder and Kayleigh Stahlschmidt.
Northwestern doesn’t need to be an elite goalscoring team to be a Big Ten contender, but the Wildcats would certainly do themselves some favors with a bit more on the goalscoring front this year. The defensive performance displayed in 2016 was nothing short of incredible, and even with the majority of the squad coming back, a repeat of seven goals all season is a lot to ask.
Last season Moynahan played a relatively docile non-conference schedule, leaving his team with little room for error in Big Ten play. The Wildcats comfortably qualified for the NCAA Tournament regardless, but it wouldn’t be a surprise for Northwestern to challenge themselves a bit more outside of the Big Ten, especially with such a veteran core.
The Wildcats will be right in the Big Ten title race, and if they increase their goalscoring, even by just a tad, they could threaten a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.