By Nicholas Guiang
From 1984-87, the Chicago Bulls, led by young star Michael Jordan, held a record of 100-146. It wasn’t until the ’87-’88 season that the Bulls achieved a winning record. Even with arguably the greatest player to ever play the game of basketball, the Chicago Bulls struggled to win. But after years of development, the Bulls had some of the most incredible seasons ever in the NBA.
Now, I am not saying that Northwestern women’s soccer will become the ’90s Bulls, but the formula remains the same. Winning takes time. Greatness doesn’t just appear — it needs time to grow. And for the 2019 season, that is all they did. Grow.
It wasn’t full of success. Ending with a 5-10-3 record, there were a multitude of struggles that this young team faced. They seemed leagues behind the one that received an NCAA tournament bid just a year before. However, that is expected for a team that lost more than half of their starting line-up and started close to 4 first-years per game. But what they learned from these losses will be carried into what I expect to be a productive and exciting 2020 fall season.
Now, what did they learn?
How to defend as a unit:
In a 0-1 loss to then No. 18 ranked Kansas, the defense packed it in, holding a Kansas team that scored 36 goals in 19 games this season to a singular goal. Led by first-year Danika Austin, the newly formed Northwestern 5 back was a force to be reckoned with despite their age. Much of that force was due to strong communication from both Austin and sophomore Julietta Thron. The talk allowed the team to shift cohesively from side to side.
Young players had to step up all season, and with a team that often seemed to be on several different pages, Austin hastily moved into what was once the role of Kayla Sharples and Hannah Davison. Austin was a leader in the back commanding orders and communicating movement, allowing the defense to gel into what it became at the end of the season.
How to let the ball flow through the team:
The wildcats fell 1-2 in overtime against Michigan in mid-October, and despite the negative result, there were more positive takeaways in this match. In particular, the team showed its ability to move the ball seamlessly while controlling possession for long periods of time. This game was an exposé on the beauty that soccer can be to the human eyes.
Sophomore Chloe McGhee and junior Regan Steigleder pulled the strings of the offense like the puppeteers they are. They showed vision, selflessness and pace as they moved the ball through their offensive third.
They seemed unafraid to control the midfield and confidently played through the lines. These two did not show their age as they became the center point of this Wildcat team throughout the season.
In what led to the eventual penalty and Northwestern’s only goal, the attack was started on a transition play by Steigleder. She has the unique ability to pull the ball out of the back and combine with other players like McGhee in order to find a forward’s feet in prime position to score at the top of the box.
These solid midfield maestros grew through their ability to pass in this game and showed they are up to the challenge when it comes to controlling the middle of the pitch.
Sophomore Olivia Stone is a striker at heart. She fights for every ball and has a physicality that is unmatched by her peers. However, in a 0-1 Loss to Minnesota at home, Stone found herself deeper back than she might have liked.
Coach Michael Moynihan, around 15 minutes into the game, changed the game for good when he made the tactical decision to move Stone from striker to right fullback. Stone seemed to be the only person able to match the speed and physicality of Minnesota’s leading scorer and star player Mackenzie Langdok.
A forward shut down another forward with no defensive experience. Stone’s versatility and importance as a team player was put on display over the 90 minutes of play that night.
Anywhere on the field, Stone can impact the game: through speed, play or physicality. And if that can spread throughout the team, success is close in the future.
A look ahead:
Northwestern Women’s Soccer is headed towards more wins and success as it strives to breach the NCAA tournament once again. This season was filled with none of those things, but more good than harm was done. A young and exciting team that will be led by senior Captain Regan Steigleder in the 2020 Season is moving quickly in an upward trend.
Losing isn’t always a negative when building towards the future, and that is why this 2019 season was not a failure.