Season Preview: Women’s Soccer
After a fourth-straight trip to the NCAA Tournament, the Wildcats look to re-tool on the fly after losing the most successful senior class in program history.
The season provided many ups and downs for this squad, and it ultimately ended in postseason heartbreak at the hands of North Carolina State. A 10-5-4 record was solid, but it was a tale of two seasons. NU started 7-2-1, including two draws and a win against Top 25 teams. Those results helped the ‘Cats earn a top-25 national ranking for a brief stretch in October, but things deteriorated from there. The team limped to a 3-3-1 finish and had to sweat it out on NCAA Tournament selection day before hearing its name called.
Northwestern just graduated its most successful senior class in program history, one that won the Big Ten in 2016, made the NCAA Tournament every year and won four NCAA Tournament games. Losing eleven players who were so successful is a blow for a team that has been one of the most consistent performers on campus. Specifically, Michael Moynihan will miss his foundation: Brenna Lovera, Kayla Sharples, Marisa Viggiano and Hannah Davison. Sharples and Davison were both drafted to the Chicago Red Stars, and Viggiano now plays for the Orlando Pride. Lovera tallied 19 goals over her four years, finishing with a team-high eight as a senior. Viggiano registered 20 assists in her 85 starts and was named to First Team All-Big Ten. On defense, Sharples helped contribute to 47 shutouts in 87 starts to go along with nine goals. Davison logged 78 starts and was also a rock on defense and in the midfield.
Filling the Gaps
There is plenty of good news for the 2019 Wildcats, and it starts in net. Sophomore Mackenzie Wood firmly established her place as starting goalie last season, earning a spot on the Big Ten All-Freshman team and recording the longest shutout streak — six games — in program history, according to NUSports.com. Experience-wise, Northwestern returns 18 players, and 10 of them have recorded multiple starts in their careers. The defense, anchored by Wood and sophomore Julietta Thron, should be alright. Someone, or a collection of players, is going to have to step up on offense, though. Lovera lead the team in scoring by a large margin with eight goals, and she isn’t there anymore. The three most prolific scorers are no longer on the team, and if the Wildcats want to reach their fifth-straight NCAA Tournament, they will need to rely on more than just the back end.
Coach Michael Moynihan brings in nine new talents to the program — four of whom were named to All-State teams during their high school careers — including Colorado Player of the Year Marianna Annest. The soon-to-be-Wildcat scored a whopping 39 goals and 16 assists this season…as a defender. With the key departures from the back line, Annest may be called upon quickly to eat up big minutes and produce. There are several incoming freshmen who have the opportunity and the talent to make immediate impacts, but it is never an easy adjustment to Big Ten competition for first-years. An x-factor could be Olivia Stone, who redshirted last season after suffering a knee injury in her senior year of high school but has tons of upside. Our Parker Johnson profiled Stone’s road to recovery.
The Wildcats have a lot to replace, and even with an arrival of impressive talent it will be hard to replicate the success that the graduated seniors helped to achieve. That being said, NU has made the Big Dance four straight years, so it is not like it took the seniors a long time to make an impact, and Michael Moynihan has dealt with this before. It may be bullish to predict another NCAA tourney bid, and the lack of obvious offense right now makes me think this team will be in a lot of grind-it-out, low-scoring games. Your move, Mackenzie Wood.
Prediction: 8-5-5 overall, 3-3-5 in conference, good for eighth in the Big Ten.