By Parker Johnson
Each week at WNUR Sports, we like to take a look at how the team’s who don’t traditionally get coverage are doing. At Northwestern, non-revenue sports like soccer, lacrosse, women’s golf, and others are consistently among the best teams on campus, so we think they deserve some more coverage. Here’s what’s happening this week, and how each team is trending.
Women’s Soccer — Trending: down
Sunday was a big day for the women’s soccer team. Coming into the day, all the ‘Cats had to do was beat Iowa to extend their season and earn a Big Ten conference tournament birth. After 110 minutes of play, they left Iowa City with a disappointing 1-1 result. Marisa Viggiano scored a brilliant solo goal, but it wasn’t enough to beat the Hawkeyes.
The result was bad for both teams. It eliminated Iowa from a chance at a top-eight Big Ten finish (the mark required to make the Big Ten tournament), and left Northwestern, for now, sitting in a tie for 8th place. The issue for the ‘Cats is that the team they are tied with, Nebraska, still has one game to play thanks to a rescheduled matchup with Michigan State. All Nebraska has to do is earn a result (draw or win) against Sparty to knock Northwestern out of the tie, and Michigan State hasn’t won a conference game all season. In all likelihood, the Wildcats’ campaign will end without an NCAA tournament appearance for the first time in the last four years, although the possibility for a miraculous upset is still in play.
Men’s Soccer — Trending: even
Northwestern’s men’s soccer team has had a tough run of things in Big Ten play. The ‘Cats are still winless through seven games, but they did find a good result on Friday against No. 13 Michigan State. NU went to its eighth overtime game of the season (16 played), and sophomore keeper Miha Miskovic & Co. were able to hold on to pitch a shutout in the scoreless draw.
There are two reasons I say that the ranked result only earns Northwestern an “even” trend rather than “up.” First, it falls in line with a season-long pattern of playing up to good opponents and down to bad ones. Northwestern gave Big Ten powerhouses Indiana and Maryland runs for their money this year — maybe the best games Northwestern played this season — but also dropped points to subpar opponents like Ohio State, Rutgers, and DePaul. The draw against Michigan State doesn’t show a significant improvement for the ‘Cats, who have showed up to big games all year.
Second, it doesn’t really help Northwestern in the standings. The point gets the ‘Cats to 3 on the season, which keeps them firmly in 8th out of the nine Big Ten men’s soccer teams. They are ahead of woeful Ohio State (1 point, which they earned versus NU), but still on the heels of Rutgers (6 points, and have the head-to-head win over NU) with one Big Ten game remaining. No matter what happens against Wisconsin on Wednesday, Northwestern will end up in the dreaded No. 8-No. 9 play-in game to the Big Ten tournament against OSU.
Field Hockey — Trending: up
Since a pair of midseason ranked wins against No. 13 Iowa and No. 25 Cal in late September, Northwestern’s season went downhill fast. After that weekend tournament in Evanston, the ‘Cats were 7-4 and 2-0 in conference — with three of the four losses coming to top-10 teams — and looking like Big Ten competitors. However, a tough schedule down the stretch turned NU’s season upside down. The backslide to an 8-9 record was facilitated by four straight ranked matches against Ohio State, Rutgers, Penn State, and Maryland, all of which the ‘Cats lost by just one goal.
Nonetheless, NU ended the season on a high note, notching a 6-1 victory over Ball State on Senior Day at Lakeside Field. Seniors Puck Pentenga and Eva van Agt combined for three goals in the scoring spree, ending their regular season careers on the scoresheet.
Northwestern will hope to carry that momentum into the Big Ten tournament. The ‘Cats finished 7th, so they will be matched up with 2-seed Michigan, to whom they lost 3-2 in Ann Arbor this year. Evanston is also the host of the Big Ten tournament this year, so if NU makes it past Michigan, the semifinals and finals would be home matchups for the Wildcats. The quarterfinal against Michigan will be Sunday, October 28. Time TBD.
Volleyball — Trending: up
To put it kindly, there was nowhere for the volleyball team to go but up this weekend. Northwestern was 0-8 in Big Ten play entering the all-Michigan weekend homestand against the Spartans and Wolverines. Despite being swept by No. 13 Michigan on Saturday, Northwestern pulled out a sweep of its own against Michigan State to earn its first conference win of the year.
The good news for NU is that it is now out of a tie with last place Rutgers, a team that, frankly, you never want to be associated with.
mid-2018 update: Rutger volleyball is now 1-71 in Big Ten play, with a grand total of 18 sets won. https://t.co/fPFSzXzaUV
— SVAD ❌❌ (@WNURSportsSVAD) October 20, 2018
With more than half the season to go, now is Northwestern’s chance to capitalize on the momentum of its first win and turn things around in conference play.