Northwestern Women’s Soccer Season Recap

By Patrick Winograd

During a disappointing football season, and just before the start of an amazing men’s basketball season, Northwestern women’s soccer quietly played like one of the best teams on campus. Although it would end the same way that men’s basketball season ended (with a loss to a top-ten UCLA team in an NCAA Tournament), the ‘Cats had a record-setting year in their first winning season since 2018.

The season started off topsy-turvy, with a season-opening 2-1 win against Kansas State, but then a 1-0 loss to Kansas in the following game. Northwestern responded with a 5-0 victory over SIUE in its home opener, but then played a scoreless tie against Oakland. 

But after that tie against Oakland, the ‘Cats flipped a switch, and started an amazing run that carried from the middle of the non-conference slate until the middle of the in-conference schedule. After a 3-1 road win over Depaul, Northwestern posted four clean-sheet victories in a row, including two ranked wins over No. 19 Xavier and No. 6 Stanford. While the ‘Cats outscored their opponents 7-0 in that stretch, the dominance did not stop there.

Northwestern finally gave up a goal after four games, and while Nebraska put up two goals in the game that broke the streak of four consecutive clean sheets, Northwestern netted four goals of its own to leave Lincoln with a 4-2 victory, and an eight-game unbeaten streak (seven wins and one tie). A 2-1 victory over Minnesota pushed Northwestern’s conference record to 3-0-0 before a showdown in Evanston with then-No. 10 Rutgers.

Rutgers was Northwestern’s third ranked opponent of the season, but the first one of the Big Ten season, as well as the first since Northwestern’s victory over No. 6 Stanford three weeks earlier. While that showdown would end Northwestern’s seven-game winning streak, the ‘Cats remained unbeaten after that matchup ended in a 1-1 tie. 

Northwestern quickly got back to winning ways by outscoring Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan by a combined score of 9-1. After the game against Michigan, Northwestern’s record sat at 12-1-2, and the ‘Cats were ranked fifth in the country, with a 13-game unbeaten streak following the loss to Kansas in the second game of the season.

But from there, the season took a bit of a turn. The ‘Cats had three regular season games left, but two of those games were against ranked opponents. The unbeaten streak came to an end with a 2-1 loss against #15 Michigan State, and then Iowa was able to hand Northwestern its first losing streak of the season, beating the ‘Cats 2-1 on Northwestern’s Senior Night. 

The ‘Cats had one last opportunity to secure a victory and get back on the right track before the postseason. That opportunity was against #17 Ohio State. Northwestern spoiled Ohio State’s Senior Day by going on the road and claiming a 2-0 win before the start of the postseason. Northwestern ended the regular season 13-3-2 and secured the No. 2 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, allowing the ‘Cats to host their first game in the Big Ten Tournament. 

The matchup was a repeat of Northwestern’s first ranked-against-ranked matchup from the Big Ten slate, as the ‘Cats took on the 20th-ranked Scarlet Knights of Rutgers. While the first matchup ended in a 1-1 tie, Northwestern went on to defeat Rutgers 2-1 to advance in the Big Ten Tournament.

That set up a matchup with No. 21 Penn State, who Northwestern had not previously played in 2022. Penn State took the matchup 2-0, (and eventually went on to win the Big Ten Tournament) meaning Northwestern had lost three of five games entering the NCAA Tournament. The ‘Cats were still able to make the NCAA Tournament, largely backed by the strong start to the season and good out-of-conference victories as well.

Northwestern came full circle in the NCAA Tournament, as both the first home game of the season and the last home game of the season were blowout victories against SIUE. The first matchup was a 5-0 victory for the ‘Cats, and in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Northwestern claimed a 3-0 victory, earning the right to take on Vanderbilt in Los Angeles. 

Northwestern took that opportunity and ran with it, defeating the Commodores 2-1, granting the ‘Cats an opportunity to take on the No. 1 overall seed, UCLA in the Sweet Sixteen, with an opportunity to advance to the Elite Eight for the first time in school history. Unfortunately, UCLA defended their home field with a 2-0 win, leaving Northwestern’s season record at 16-5-2.

While the season did not quite end up as successful as ‘Cats fans may have hoped for amidst the hysteria of a 13-game unbeaten streak and securing a top-five national ranking, this season was surely one to remember for Northwestern. By the time the season was over, Northwestern tied or broke school records in conference wins (7), overall wins (16) and goals in conference play (23).The ‘Cats also notched the longest overall unbeaten streak in school history (13 games), the longest unbeaten streak in conference play in school history (7 games), and with the school’s third appearance in the Sweet Sixteen, matched the farthest any Northwestern team has ever advanced in the NCAA Tournament. 

All things told, Northwestern beat the Big Ten preseason favorite, Rutgers, twice, bounced back from late-season adversity to make a deep NCAA Tournament run, and set multiple school records in the process.

Not bad for a team without a winning season since 2018.