The freezing conditions and strong winds alone were not enough to stop the ‘Cats Friday night.
Northwestern (5-6-2, 3-2-1 B1G) opened the weekend’s home stretch against two Michigan-rooted rivals with a 2-1 win over Michigan State (8-5-1, 1-4-1 B1G) to put the ‘Cats back above .500 in Big Ten play. It’s a good omen for the Wildcats, who have yet to record a conference loss at home and will finish the season with three of its five remaining Big Ten games in Evanston.
The ‘Cats had to battle Michigan State’s lead early. Spartan forward Paige Webber rocketed a shot into a wide-open goal in the ninth minute after an aggressive run and missed stop by goalkeeper Mackenzie Wood outside the box. A second miscue from Wood gave the Spartans another open-goal opportunity that ultimately didn’t connect.
The deficit didn’t last long. First-year midfielder Lily Gilbertson found the ball directly in front of the goal after a Northwestern corner kick, and sent it home through the bottom right corner, past the outstretched arms of goalkeeper Lauren Kozal for the first goal of her collegiate career.
“I feel like we definitely needed that after we went down 1-0. The energy was really good, and we could feel that it was coming,” Gilbertson said. “I think it got the momentum going for us.”
The remainder of the first half was full of missed opportunities by both teams. The ‘Cats struggled to connect passes, and the Spartans were unable to find the back of the net despite their own chances in the box.
Both teams opened the second half with strong offensive pushes, but it was a Northwestern corner kick from Gilbertson in the 58th minute that produced the tie-breaking chance.
After initial contact from first-year Reilly Riggs, Gilbertson’s kick ended up outside the box. Sophomore forward Olivia Stone got control of it, and she recorded her first point of the season when her centering pass met Olivia Korhonen’s head before ending up in the top-right corner of the net.
Korhonen’s goal made her the 11th player to score for the Wildcats this season, continuing Northwestern’s trend of winning with new goal scorers.
“We probably have the most goal scorers in the conference, we’ve had eleven, but only one each. I’ve never experienced this before, ever in my career, where it’s spread out that much,” Wildcats Coach Michael Moynihan said after the game.
Michigan State kept the pressure on for the Northwestern defense in the final 30 minutes, including multiple opportunities in the box and a free kick from five yards outside, but Mackenzie Wood was rock-solid in net, recording four saves after the go-ahead goal to preserve the Wildcat lead. The win pushes the ‘Cats further into tournament contention, but the difficult schedule ahead may provide trouble with games against Michigan (10-3-1, 5-1-1 B1G) and Wisconsin (10-2-1, 6-0-0 B1G) still remaining.