If there’s one thing foes have learned at Lakeside Field, it’s that the Wildcats are a tough team to beat.
After a close loss to No. 4 Virginia on the road, No. 12 Northwestern (9-2, 1-0 Big Ten) battled No. 14 Iowa (5-4, 0-1) into overtime for a 4-3 win in their Big Ten opener, making the Hawkeyes the latest Lakeside victim Friday afternoon.
The first half was all ‘Cats as they jumped out to a 2-0 lead. They did so by taking advantage of penalty opportunities when they had the chance, converting two out of six. Both goals in the first half were scored by breakout freshman midfielder Dominique Masters, with assists from senior midfielder Julia Retzky and sophomore midfielder Lisa McCarthy. The second goal came off a deflection but somehow found its way into the net.
Masters is currently fourth on the team with 10 points this season and is only one of two freshmen in the starting lineup.
Iowa had several opportunities for easy looks in the opening half, but the Wildcat defense, led by sophomore Lisa McCarthy, prevented their opponent from any kind of success. They did such an outstanding job that Northwestern junior goalkeeper Maddy Carpenter never faced a shot on goal.
The second half was a completely different story. Iowa came out much more aggressive and it paid dividends. Natalie Cafone, the second leading scorer in the Big Ten, got the ball past the ‘Cats defenders and goalkeeper for her 8th goal of the season only five minutes in.
All of a sudden the momentum had shifted, and it looked as if the ‘Cats were going to have a hard time closing the game out. The offense was struggling to get anything going and didn’t earn its first penalty corner of the second half until there were 19 minutes left on the clock.
Dani Hemeon scored the Hawkeyes' second goal of the half to tie the game up. Then, in nearly a blink of an eye, the Hawkeyes took the lead off their first penalty corner of the second half. Cafone knocked it in, tying her with Rachel Mack for Big Ten scoring leader. It was as if a different team had shown up in the second half, the same team that had just defeated Kent State 6-0 on the road.
All of a sudden, time became Northwestern’s enemy.
With six minutes left, the ‘Cats had their tenth corner chance, but a brilliant save by Iowa goalkeeper Kelsey Boyce helped maintain the Hawkeyes lead. She went full extension to prevent what would have been the tying goal.
‘Cats coach Tracey Fuchs must have realized that her team needed some sort of offensive spark, so she decided to pull the goalkeeper with 3:43 left in the game.
Fuchs talked about her risky decision after the game. “We practice it two or three times a week, so it was just like, 'Here we are in practice.’ For us to see us get a goal, I think it was under four minutes, I couldn’t be prouder after how the second half went."
Low and behold the decision paid off. In the 69th minute, the ‘Cats tied up the game with a goal from, you guessed it, Dominique Masters. Talk about being clutch.
“It was really tough for us to get around the players, but I saw Puff [Tara Puffenberger] looking to hit it and the defenders weren’t ready,” Masters said. “I just wanted to get in front and get something on it to see if I could get a deflection.”
Her stellar performance had sent the game into overtime, in which the first goal wins. In the extra time, the ‘Cats had four penalty opportunities early on, but couldn’t convert on any of them.
That didn’t prevent the ‘Cats from making one last push. In the 79th minute, senior midfielder Tara Puffenberger split away from her defender giving her a two-on-one with freshman midfielder Isabel Flens to her left side. The single defender went to guard Puffenberger, who dished it off to Flens.
The freshman took two shots on goal; the first one deflected off the goalie, but fortunately the ball rebounded right back at her, and she sent it over the goalies head and into the net. Just like that, the game was over.
In a split second the Northwestern bench exploded and mobbed Flens, who had just scored her third, and most important, goal so far for the ‘Cats this season.
“I saw that Puff had the ball, was coming from the right, and on the left was an open space. I sprinted to the left corner, got a lot of space, and I saw the goalie coming out, so I thought I should better shoot it,” Flens said. ”She was laying down the first time, so I had to put it over her.”
This was the second overtime victory for the Wildcats this season, who host the Michigan Wolverines on Sunday.
If Friday’s game is any indication of how the Big Ten schedule will play out for the Wildcats, it’s sure to be an exciting season.