This wasn’t what the seniors had in mind for their final performance in front of their home crowd.
Instead of going out on top, the ‘Cats (3-13-2, 1-9-0 Big Ten) will have to live with a 3-0 defeat at the hands of the No. 10 Michigan Wolverines (14-2, 8-1-1) at Lakeside Field on Sunday. While it might not have ended in their favor, it was an emotional game for the seniors, and it gave them a chance to reflect on their careers with the program.
So, what will senior forward Kate Allen miss the most?
“I think just being a part of such a great group of girls that are my best friends,” she said. “I think that will be the hardest thing to let go.”
Allen is one of the leading goal-scorers for the ‘Cats with three on the season. Coach Michael Moynihan also spoke upon the behalf of his seniors.
“A lot of times, teams kind of adopt the personality of the senior leadership group," he said. "They’re happy, they like each other and they just keep working, and it’s fun. To me, the first thing you want to build is the right culture and the right attitude within the team, and I think our seniors did a good job leading the way in that, and it will set us up for success down the road.”
Since it was Senior Day, all seven of the departing seniors were in the starting lineup, and none of them were subbed out until the 23rd minute. The unit actually held their own for much of the first half, despite the fact that several of them aren’t used to receiving a ton of playing time.
Senior goalkeeper Sam Hatfield shined brightly in her first opportunity to play big minutes all season. In the 13th minute, she made an unbelievable save as she jumped and fully extended her arm to smack the ball before it could go into the top of the net. The Northwestern faithful were ecstatic, to say the least. She finished the afternoon with a career-high seven saves.
The Northwestern defense on whole did a good job in the first half of preventing goal-scoring opportunities by the Wolverines, who had the ball deep in ‘Cat territory quite often. They also managed to frustrate Wolverine forward Nkem Ezurike whenever she gained possession. Ezurike, a preseason All-American, entered Sunday’s game as the fourth leading scorer in the conference. On Sunday, though, she was held in check.
Nonetheless, the Wolverines applied constant pressure on the ‘Cats – managing a whopping 12 shots – but still had nothing to show for it.
In the 42nd minute, however, sophomore midfielder Cassie Collins received a pass from fellow sophomore midfielder Corinne Harris just outside of the box and ripped it past Hatfield to give the Wolverines a 1-0 lead. This was how it would stand for the rest of the half.
If the ‘Cats had any chance to get back in the game, they had to get something going on the offensive end. In the first half, they managed only one shot on goal and rarely had the ball in Wolverine territory.
“We needed to play forward, and I thought there were gaps in the midfield that we could connect and then play forward," Moynihan said. "Instead, we were going backwards and taking easy passes that were putting us into dangerous situations. I thought in the second half, we did a much better job with our midfielders looking to play forward.”
The Wildcats entered the second half with more of their typical lineup, except that Hatfield remained in goal. Only four seniors were on the pitch. The change seemed to provide a sudden spark, as the ‘Cats began to play more aggressively on the offensive side of the ball, which gave them several golden opportunities to put something up on the scoreboard. Nonetheless, they weren’t able to convert.
Then, in the 65th minute, the ‘Cats committed a crucial handball in the box, which set up a penalty kick for Wolverine senior midfielder Meghan Toohey. Hatfield dove to her right in anticipation, but guessed incorrectly as Toohey knocked it in to give the Wolverines a 2-0 advantage.
The ‘Cats had no answers from that point on. It was as if they had used all their energy coming out of the half and had nothing left in the tank. The Wolverines, however, weren’t finished by any means. In the 86th minute, midfielder Nicky Waldeck drilled a shot in the air just past the outstretched arms of Hatfield to give the Wolverines a comfortable 3-0 lead, which was how the game would end.
Before Sunday’s game, the seven seniors was praised over the loudspeaker for their achievements during their tenure with the program. Nearly every single one of them had earned Academic All-Big Ten honors at one point in their careers, a testament to the work they have put in on and off the field. One by one, they walked alongside their parents, with flowers in hand, through a wall of loud and emotional teammates before being greeted by athletic director Jim Phillips.
“It was an unbelievable experience,” Allen said. “Definitely sentimental and emotional, but it was great to end with the last game here at Lakeside Field.”
The Wildcats will finish their season Nov. 2 at Wisconsin.