By Fredrick Bugyei
Last season will likely go down as a successful one for Northwestern women’s soccer: the Wildcats advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament for the third consecutive year and made their first Big Ten tournament finals appearance in 20 years. The 2017 campaign resulted in Head Coach Michael Moynihan signing an extension that will keep him in Evanston through 2022. Moynihan has already taken Northwestern women’s soccer from Big Ten mediocrity to serious conference title contenders. Now, the Wildcats will be looking to make the next leap as a soccer program, but it will be no easy feat to make the jump.
Northwestern loses 7 seniors from last season, most notably goalkeeper Lauren Clem. Clem demolished the program records for career shutouts (48), goal against average (0.63), and shutout streak (658:58). She even established herself in the NCAA record books at 3rd all-time on the career shutout list and 7th all-time in career minutes played as a goalkeeper. Clem was consistently in great position and utilized her athleticism to make saves few in the NCAA could.
With Clem graduating and taking her talents to Scandinavia with the Swedish club Uppsala Fotboll, her expected replacement in goal is Molly Lansford, who still has still yet to play a game in her college career despite entering her senior season at Northwestern. Lansford may have to compete for the starting job with Mackenzie Wood, one of the 9 incoming first-years who together form a promising 2018 recruiting class. Wood set the Indiana high school state record for most career shutouts in just three seasons on the varsity team.
In addition to Clem, the Wildcats will also miss the speedy presence of Kassidy Gorman. A reliable left back, Gorman started 86 games through her four years at Northwestern and provided 6 goals as an emergency attacker during the Wildcats 2016 Big Ten regular season championship run.
While they lose key pieces of their back line, another stout defense should be in store for the Wildcats in 2018. Star center backs Kayla Sharples and Hannah Davison return for their senior seasons with the program. The staunch center back pairing anchored a defense that only gave up 0.83 goals per game, and both are a threat on any set piece as they combined for 5 goals in 2017.
The 2017 campaign proved to be a breakout season for midfielder Marisa Viggiano, who made First Team All-Big Ten. The rising senior led the team in assists with 8, the fourth-most by a Northwestern player in a regular season. Viggiano provided deadly deliveries in set pieces and created crafty opportunities in the run of play. Along with defensive midfielder Michele Chernesky, Viggiano will look to anchor the midfield in her senior season.
The 2018 squad will also feature a strong sophomore class, Several of the first-years were able to make an immediate impact for the Wildcats. Regan Steigleder, McKenna Angotti and Madi Kennel combined for 65 starts and Kylie Fisher came on strong in the 2nd half of the season.
For the Wildcats, consistent goalscoring has continued to be the question mark. The ‘Cats do return leading goal scorer Brenna Lovera, who scored 4 goals last season and has 6 career game-winning goals. Nia Harris also serves as a speedy threat who may look to step up in the upcoming season.
Northwestern is in the midst of their best run ever for the women’s soccer program. The big question that will determine if the ‘Cats can take the next step is if they can score consistently. Several key goals came from set pieces, but to make deep runs in the NCAA tournament, more goals will have to come from the run of play.