The Minnesota Golden Gophers and Wisconsin Badgers pushed the playoff hopes for women’s soccer to the brink on this past week.
The Wildcats (5-10-3, 3-6-2 B1G) fell 1-0 to Minnesota (3-12-4, 2-7-2 B1G) on Thursday and 3-1 to outright Big Ten champion Wisconsin (13-2-2, 9-0-1 B1G) on Sunday in what may be their final games of the season. The home losses kept them locked in a points tie with Indiana, Nebraska and Purdue, and their chances of making the Big Ten Tournament will depend on the final two regular-season Big Ten games: Michigan State at Indiana, and Ohio State at Wisconsin.
The Minnesota match did not get off to a good start for the ‘Cats. First-year defender Danika Austin had to be helped off the field with an apparent knee injury in the first minute and didn’t return to the field.
The Golden Gophers jumped on the Austin-less Northwestern defense, driving the ball into the box and creating opportunities. The Wildcats held their ground, often stopping the Minnesota push before the Gophers could get a shot off.
The physical play from the two teams led to more fouls than usual for the ’Cats. Their seven fouls in the first half were the most Northwestern has had in the first half of any Big Ten game this year. It was this level of physicality and tackling that got them out of trouble in their defensive zone in the first forty-five minutes to keep the score knotted at zero.
The Wildcats got better offensive chances in the second half. Their passes seemed to connect more often, and as a result, they had possession for longer than in the first half.
One of the best opportunities for Northwestern came in the 63rd minute, when a long cross from Paige Miller found Haley Lawson in the box. Lawson’s header got past Minnesota goalkeeper Maddie Nielsen, but it bounced off of the top of the crossbar, just high of the net.
The Golden Gophers broke the tie in the 81st minute. Minnesota midfielder Katie Duong sent in a shot from outside the penalty box that rattled the crossbar. The ball bounced downwards and back out in front of the goal before ’Cats keeper Mackenzie Wood collected it, and after a brief review, the official determined that it had crossed the goal line.
“From where I was, I thought it [had gone in], but I was just hoping for the best from the video,” Wood said. “It’s kind of just frustrating as a goalie. Any goal that goes in, no matter how good it is, you think that there’s a way to save it.”
For the remaining nine minutes, the Gophers played conservatively, wasting time by dribbling around in the corner of the field.
A last-chance opportunity for Northwestern did come when the Wildcats earned a corner kick in the final 45 seconds, but Marianna Annest’s pass ultimately rolled wide left of the goal without any contact from another Northwestern player.
“I don’t have a ton to say,” Wildcats coach Michael Moynihan said after the game. “We can’t dwell on this and, you know, ‘woe is me’ sort of thing for very long, so we’ve got to move on and be ready for Sunday.”
On Sunday’s Senior Day, however, Northwestern lost 3-1 to No. 10 Wisconsin, the Big Ten regular season champion. The Wildcats tied the game not long after the Badgers had scored first, but two more goals put Wisconsin on top for the afternoon.
NU had the advantage in two facets of the game. The ’Cats beat the Badgers 7-2 in corner opportunities (including 5-1 in the first half), and also committed less fouls (four to Wisconsin’s nine). But Wisconsin outshot them 13-11, including 9-5 for shots on goal.
On the Badgers’ first shot of the day, Dani Rhodes got the ball past Wood after beating out Reilly Riggs for possession. The 16th-minute score came with the help of a headed pass by Cameron Murtha following a kick by Badger goalie Jordyn Bloomer. But Riggs responded with a header of her own, off of a Lily Gilbertson corner kick less than eight minutes later.
In the span of three minutes before the end of the first half, two Wisconsin shots preceded a third that converted for Claire Shea in the 45th. Wood got a hand on Shea’s long-range shot, but it still crossed the goal line before heading back out. Play had continued until an out-of-bounds ball led to a goal review.
Though the Wildcats had evened up the game earlier, they were unable to get a comeback going. The last six Northwestern shots couldn’t find the net, with three being saved by Bloomer.
Wisconsin aggravated the issue when Jenna Kiraly added to the lead in the 74th minute following a Badger free kick. Olivia Stone tried deflecting the ball out-of-bounds, but instead it went toward the net. Wood reached out for a save and the ball hit the top crossbar, but Kiraly was able to push it back and in for the score.
Against one of the top-ranked teams in the country, the ’Cats were unable to pull off the upset, and the Badgers secured their spot atop the Big Ten standings.
Wisconsin game stats and details provided by SIDEARM Sports