Aug. 25, 2005
NORTHWESTERN WOMEN'S SOCCER PREVIEW
The Wildcats finished 10-8-2 last year, just the fourth double-digit win season in school history and its first since 1998. However, do not for a second think they were satisfied--instead, when the season was over, and the team was left out of the NCAA Championship field, there was a sense of woulda-coulda-shoulda.
"The biggest lesson we learned last year was that we need to be as prepared to compete on the road as well as at home," said head coach Jenny Haigh. "We have a lot of pride playing on our home field, but we need to carry that same pride as competitors at any facility against any opponent."
This season's team certainly has the components to again challenge in the Big Ten (NU went 5-4-1 in the conference last year, finishing fifth) and perhaps gain that elusive NCAA bid.
Start with the offense. Any conversation about the Wildcat attack has to start with sophomore Kelsey Hans. All she did as a freshman was set the school record for goals in a season (15), finished second in the Big Ten in goals and points per game, and earn second-team All-Big Ten and SoccerBuzz Freshman All-America honors. She could be joined up front by senior Tabitha Lowey, who set career highs last year with five goals and three assists in 2004, or junior Katie Wright (11 career points).
"The attack will be a strength--we expect to be productive in the offensive half of the field," said Haigh. "We return Kelsey Hans, Tabby Lowey, and Julie Lipinski, and we have some very exciting attacking players in our freshmen class who will add an exciting punch."
The midfield is the biggest question mark--it takes a huge step forward if second-team All-Big Ten junior Shannon Schneeman is able to recover from a knee injury suffered during the spring and return. If she cannot, the middle is likely to be manned by sophomore Kelly Sitkowski who started 18 matches last year and earned a spot on the Big Ten's All-Freshman Team. Lowey has been a terror on the wings in past years and could return to that role, and fellow senior Julie Lipinski has been a staple in the NU lineup since her freshman year. Senior Molly Maxfield also hopes to step in as a regular this season.
"Our midfield is versatile and will be fairly dynamic," said Haigh. "Tabby and Julie both have the ability to play wide or up front for us. Kelly Sitkowski can play every position on the field for us and is both a very dangerous attacker and one of our top defenders. We are deep in that position, with many personalities who can play important roles depending on what we need game to game."
The defense will have a new look this season, as Haigh needs to fill three of the four spots from a year ago. The lone returnee is junior Tori Bohannon, who began her NU career as a walk-on but has started all but one match in her career. Among the returnees, leading candidates to fill in the open slots are sophomores Stephanie Krutsch and Danielle Iordanou.
One spot where Northwestern has no questions is in goal--junior Whitney Jones was a second-team All-Big Ten selection last year, and has started all 38 matches the Wildcats have played since she arrived on campus as a 17-year-old freshman. She had a 1.28 goals-against average in 2004. If Jones gets injured, junior Leslie Gittings has experience and will be ready to step into the starting role.
"Whitney Jones does a tremendous job; she will help our back line become a cohesive unit almost immediately because she does such an accurate and job of communicating," said Haigh. "She is very experienced now, and we will look for her to be a steady force for us. She is also extremely competitive and will only continue to get better because she wants to win so badly."
With a relative dearth of upperclass players--admittedly more in actual numbers than experience--Haigh may have to rely on her seven recruited freshmen more than usual. There is talent in the class--it was ranked 47th by SoccerBuzz--which makes the biggest issue how quickly the women can adjust to the college game.
"When I think of one word to describe this team in 2005 it is ambitious," said Haigh. "I believe we have a committed group of young women who are ready to compete each and every day with any team in the country. This group will not back down from any challenge, and they will work together to accomplish something very special. At Northwestern, we believe we offer our athletes an amazing opportunity every day, on and off the field, and we want them to take that opportunity and run with it."