Nick’s Knacks: Sports over spring break

By Nick Guiang

As Northwestern students celebrated the end of the quarter with a desperately needed one-week spring break, all eyes were on athletics as many teams faced off in key matchups.

While I traveled to Michigan to spend a few days in the woods, the women’s basketball team and the men’s soccer both managed to dampen the fun with some disappointing performances. While I will admit women’s basketball’s win over UCF was exciting, the play was rollercoaster at best, as the team shot an electric 51 percent from the field with 14 turnovers. Eventually, the exceptional squad of two-seeded Louisville ousted the ‘Cats in the round of 32. Despite Louisville’s talent, the ‘Cats were up by 12 halfway through the third quarter, yet then allowed 24 points in the last 15 minutes. After scoring 25 in the first quarter, I expected things to cool down for the ‘Cats, but they barely managed to double their score in the remaining three quarters. Meanwhile, Louisville went on to outscore them 52-28. While the team may have come up short to end this exciting season, I’m still extremely proud of them, and the fact is, Veronica Burton, my MVP for this year’s squad, will be returning as a senior. Despite losing an at-times shooting machine in senior Lindsey Pulliam, I think the ‘Cats are in fine hands to return to the tournament again in 2022.

However, the women’s basketball team was not the only squad to disappoint my relaxing spring break. During this past week, men’s soccer played in two, albeit difficult, contests against top Big Ten teams, and hobbled away with zero points. Ever since the win versus a ranked Indiana in late February, the ‘Cats have seemed in over their heads when it has come to consistently dominating on the pitch. With only a point to their record in the last five games (0-4-1), this team has more than struggled to continue their early success. 

But, in an attempt to be positive, I have been absolutely enthralled by the play of Ugo Achara Jr. He has proven to be a consistent and lethal striker when he finds space in the box, and his athleticism has shone, especially in two acrobatic strikes since the beginning of the season. And, if we see any success from this squad in the rest of the year, I can assure you it will be through Achara and his ability to create space between towering center backs.

Spring break wasn’t all doom and gloom, though. While I basked in the sun on the towering Michigan Sleeping Bear Dunes, one team seemed to enjoy break just a little bit more: The women’s soccer team. Over the past five days, the ‘Cats scored five goals in two phenomenal matches. Sophomore Aurea Martin has continued to impress and stamp her name as a prominent attacking option for this squad. Martin, who was involved in three of the five goals, was a key player in the exciting overtime win at Michigan State. Less than a minute into the overtime period, Martin assisted junior Olivia Stone, who found the goal.

However, the ‘Cats’ success hasn’t solely been because of their decisive and clinical attacking, but also through their staunch and rigid backline led by junior transfer Hallie Pearson. Pearson has played the most minutes this season, totaling 818. After being a regular starter at Arizona University for the past two years, Pearson has been a blessing in the ‘Cats’ backfield in 2021. Since her addition this fall, the ‘Cats have logged five clean sheets, which is the most for this team since Kayla Sharples (’18) and Hannah Davison (’18) commanded the Cats’ backline in 2018. 

It has become apparent for women’s soccer who stands out amongst this squad as the leaders. Freshmen Ella Hase and Josie Allucino haven’t been afraid of the spotlight, and senior veteran Regan Steigleder has commanded this team to an impressive 5-4 record as they comfortably hang in sixth place in the Big Ten. After a lackluster and what seemed to be a developmental season for the ‘Cats in 2019, 2021 has been fruitful. With the potential of climbing higher in the Big Ten in their last two games versus a comparable Ohio State and a dejected Illinois, Northwestern women’s soccer could be looking at their best finish since 2017 when they claimed second in the regular season.