Northwestern Women’s Soccer Season Preview
By Logan Schiciano
On the heels of an unlikely run that catapulted Northwestern women’s soccer to one of the best seasons in program history, the expectations are undoubtedly raised as the 2023 season approaches.
The ‘Cats, who were ranked as high as fifth in the nation last year, begin the year as the 18th-best team in the country, according to the United Soccer Coaches poll – their highest ranking in preseason history.
Northwestern made it to the third round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history last year and tied a program record with 16 wins.
While the Wildcats parted ways with one of their best players Rowan Lapi, who will use her final two years of eligibility at conference rival Penn State, both Danika Austin and Aurea del Carmen return to Evanston for a fifth season.
The graduate students played critical roles on both sides of the ball in 2022. Del Carmen, who has terrific speed and finishing ability, ended last year tied for third on the squad in goals (6) and assists (5).
Austin was trusted as one of just three true defenders in Michael Moynihan’s unconventional formation. The trio of Austin, Nicole Doucette and Emma Phillips conceded the second fewest goals per game (.78) in the Big Ten last year.
The ‘Cats had the most All-Big Ten selections of any team in the conference last year and expect big things from their star seniors in the midfield: Josie Aulicino and Meg Boade.
Aulicino has been a crucial part of the ‘Cats attack since she arrived in Evanston. She not only led the team in goals (9) last season, but her craftiness and field vision resulted in a team-leading 10 assists. In fact, she’s been the ‘Cats top assist woman in each of her first three seasons.
Boade burst onto the scene in 2022. She trailed only Aulicino in goals (7), but her patience, skills and clutch factor earned her a first team All-Big Ten spot. The Colorado native’s 12 points during Big Ten play were also the second-most in program history.
While the talent is there for Northwestern, a couple of questions still remain.
Filling the vacancy in the middle left by Lapi will be a challenge, but the ‘Cats do have a couple more-than-capable replacements. Northwestern welcomed graduate transfer Jaelyn Eisenhart to the team in the offseason. Eisenhart previously played at USC, where she made 42 starts across four seasons.
The ‘Cats also have midfielder Bridget Mitchell. The senior has battled injuries throughout her career, but was finally healthy during Northwestern’s playoff run and showed just how good she can be. On her first career shot, she scored to put the ‘Cats up 2-0 against Vanderbilt in the Round of 32. That goal proved to be crucial, as
Northwestern held on to win 2-1 and advanced to its third-ever Sweet Sixteen game.
The other area of intrigue is in goal, as Northwestern added graduate student Gina Muzi. The keeper played her first two seasons at the University of Portland, before transferring to St. John’s for her next two years. She started all 19 games for the Red Storm in 2022, allowing 0.86 goals per game with seven clean sheets.
It’s unclear how Coach Moynihan will go about using Muzi, with sophomore goalie Reiley Fitzpatrick having already proved herself with the ‘Cats last season. The freshman split time in goal with now-graduated Mia Raben until she injured her wrist halfway through the Big Ten slate. Fitzpatrick allowed just four goals across her 11 halves of action, but wasn’t tested all that much – she only made 5 saves.
But Fitzpatrick isn’t the only underclassman on the squad to look out for. International phenom Caterina Regatzoni was the 2022 Big Ten Freshman of the Year and while she only scored three goals, the Swiss product was right in the middle of numerous dangerous Wildcat attacks.
Northwestern opens the season on Aug. 18 at Marquette. The ‘Cats non-conference slate includes road games against Virginia Tech and Vanderbilt – Northwestern’s opponent in the second round of the 2022 NCAA Tournament.
The ‘Cats open Big Ten play on Sept. 17 at Purdue.