Northwestern women's soccer celebrates during a 2019 matchup. After their 2020 season was initially delayed, the 'Cats finally opened Big Ten play with a convincing defensive statement over Indiana. Photo Credit: Maren Kranking / North by Northwestern

One postponed season and 482 days later, Northwestern women’s soccer is finally back. The Wildcats (1-0-0) stepped into Ryan Fieldhouse with force Saturday evening, securing a scrappy win for their season opener against Indiana (0-1-0).  

Northwestern seemed eager to return to the pitch after a tumultuous, pandemic-filled fall. In an uncharacteristically physical fashion, the ‘Cats notched three yellow cards before sophomore midfielder Aurea Martin captured the game’s only goal in the final minutes of the second half.

"It was a hard-fought game with a definite edge to it. Probably something to be expected since these athletes haven't been able to compete in so long,” Head Coach Michael Moynihan said.

The first half displayed the team’s potential, as Northwestern constantly pressed to keep the ball in Indiana territory. The Wildcats continued to push, taking four shots on goal and holding Indiana to only one. Senior midfielder Kylie Fisher led the best look in the half, sending a corner kick to senior midfielder Regan Steigleder, who headed the ball directly into Indiana goalkeeper Bethany Kopel’s glove. Indiana had three shots, but only one good look as the ‘Cats were clearly dominating on their home field.

Things got more aggressive at the start of the second half as more back-and-forth kept both goalkeepers busy. Northwestern junior goalkeeper Mackenzie Wood had her tenth shut-out of her career, with four total saves. Indiana junior Oliwia Wos and sophomore Avery Lockwood applied the pressure, with three shot attempts against the Wildcats in the first minutes of the second half. A dominant performance from Northwestern’s young backline kept all three looks from finding the net.

Northwestern goalkeeper MacKenzie Wood saves the ball during a 2019 matchup. Wood's stellar play, along with a stingy defensive performance from the 'Cats, allowed Northwestern to win their first game with a dominant shutout. Photo Credit: Maren Kranking / North by Northwestern

Northwestern’s defense had a strong debut, as first year Ella Hase and junior transfer Hallie Pearson stood the pressure of an intense second half. Three yellow cards for the Wildcats and one to the Hoosiers amplified the stress of a no-score game.

With overtime looming, junior midfielder Francesca Docters finally broke the stalemate with just five minutes remaining. In a well performed set piece, Docters was able to find Martin’s head, allowing the sophomore to nod the ball in for the game’s first goal. With Martin’s second game winning goal of her career, the ‘Cats took the lead for the first time all game, ending on top in the first game of their season.  

I know it felt good for everyone to get out there and compete again,” Head Coach Michael Moynihan said.  “I'm proud of the team for maintaining their composure and earning a result."

The Wildcats seem to have grown in the off-season, showing improvement after coming off a tough 2019 record. Finishing just 3-6-2 in conference last year put them tenth in the Big Ten, cutting them out of the Big Ten tournament. As head coach Michael Moynihan enters his ninth season at Northwestern, he’s surely looking to make more of an impact with a roster full of more experienced returners.

An abbreviated schedule leaves little room for mistakes. Eleven conference-only games in six weeks means every match counts, especially if the ‘Cats hope to make it to the Conference Championships this season. A win on Sunday set the ‘Cats up nicely as they prepare for a tough second week, playing Penn State at home on Thursday night and Maryland at home on Sunday.

Get ready for a defensive stronghold unlike any other.

After 482 days, the 'Cats are finally back, setting themselves up for a great show. Photo Credit: Maren Kranking / North by Northwestern