In its last six games, the Northwestern women’s soccer team scored a total of two goals. It scored two goals or fewer in all but three of its 20 games, and failed to score a single goal in six of those games.
But in the first round of the 2016 NCAA Women’s Soccer Tournament, Northwestern broke out of its scoring slump with a 3-0 win over Kent State. The Wildcats picked up two early goals and then rode one of the best defenses in the nation the rest of the way.
The Golden Flashes nearly disrupted the ‘Cats’ defense-first gameplan early. Just over seven minutes in, the ball trickled past goalkeeper Lauren Clem off the foot of Jenna Hellstrom. Celebration ensued, but the Kent State senior was flagged offside, eliminating what would’ve been just the seventh goal allowed by the Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year this season.
NU rebounded from the close call perfectly. The ‘Cats won a corner in the 18th minute, and Marisa Viggiano delivered it in. Somehow no one picked up Kayla Sharples, who delivered a thumping header into the corner of the net for her third goal of the year.
Given the strength of the NU defense, it seemed plausible that the ‘Cats would take their collective foot off the gas and rely on their back line to see them through. They didn’t. Just two minutes after Sharples’ goal, Grace Orndorff found herself free in the box and Kent State goalkeeper Ashleah McDonald grabbed her foot, causing Orndorff to go to ground and causing the referee to award a penalty kick for NU. For the second time this season, Nandi Mehta stepped up to take the kick and for the second time this season, she dispatched it perfectly into the left half of the net over a diving McDonald for a 2-0 Northwestern lead.
Kent State was neutralized for the remainder of the half and for the first 20 minutes of the second half before the Golden Flashes had two sequences where they might’ve scored if not for the team defense of NU, a team that has the lowest goals against average in the nation. Clem made consecutive saves on long-range shots by Hellstrom and Amanda Reed in the 68th minute before Northwestern blocked three straight shots in the 77th to keep Kent State off the board.
Then, on the counterattack, Viggiano played a ball into the box that Rachel Zampa picked up. Zampa then turned and tossed it across the face of goal where Kassidy Gorman was streaking to the back post, and it was an easy tap-in goal for the junior for her fifth goal of the campaign in the 83rd minute. The match got chippy down the stretch as both teams were awarded yellow cards in the final three minutes, but Kent State could not produce any offense and NU left Martin Stadium for the final time in 2016 with a convincing 3-0 win.
The ‘Cats are officially moving on, and they will face upstart SIU-Edwardsville next Friday after the Cougars pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the tournament with a win over two-seed Notre Dame in a penalty shootout. NU will head to Durham, North Carolina, for the match next weekend and could play host Duke in round three should both teams advance.