Wildcats taking on the nation’s finest in the Sweet Sixteen

By Adam Bakr

With a birth in the Elite 8 on the line, the Northwestern women’s soccer team faces its toughest test so far in the tournament. 

The Wildcats are set to take on UCLA in Los Angeles. Not only are the Bruins seeded No. 1 in the ‘Cats quarter of the bracket, but they also topped the final rankings of the season the week before the selection show. UCLA comes into the matchup 18-2-1 (9-2). They’re 10-0-1 at home under first year head coach Margueritte Aozasa. Predating her tenure, UCLA has only lost six home games since 2017. 

The Bruins stormed through the opening round with a 4-1 win over Northern Arizona, but were pushed to the brink in the last round against UCF. The 1-1 draw is the lone blemish on this season’s home record. They were quick to erase a surprise deficit as Jackie Gilday found an equalizer, but from there could not find a winner despite having 18 shots in the final 72 minutes. While the game was frustrating, the shootout itself was as comfortable as can be, winning 3-0 after three rounds. 

Northwestern comes in winning four of its last five, and have lived up to the high expectations set from the regular season in the opening rounds. The second act against SIUE followed the same plotline as the first for a comfortable first round win. After a late penalty cut the lead against Vaderbelt to 2-1, Northwestern closed the game without giving up a real chance at an equalizer.. 

Head coach Michael Moynihan is still working around the absence of Emma Phillips, who has not played since the Big Ten Tournament. Ella Hase has shifted to the back three in her absence, with Ingrid Falls getting in the midfield. Formerly a left back, Hase has looked natural in her return to defense and has flexed her pace often to chase down attacks. To this point, the defense has not missed a beat, with the only goal conceded being from the spot after a strange foul off of a corner. 

They’ll be dealing with a different offense this time around, as UCLA’s 58 goals on the season is tied for third in the country. The attacking trio of Sunshine Fontes, Reilyn Turner and Lexi Wright have combined for 26 goals and 15 assists. It makes for a nice matchup with Northwestern’s own attacking trident of Josie Aulicino, Aurea Del Carmen and Meg Boade, who have 22 goals and 17 assists themselves. 

Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. central. Join Perri Kitei and Jason Boue on the call for WNUR.