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The inaugural Northern Illinois women's soccer team in 1993 pictured above (NIU Media Services)

NOTE: All facts and stats are referenced from the NIU Media Relations archives and media guides. I have not been affiliated with the university long enough to know the ins and outs of the program as such. If there are any discrepancies or if you have any comments or feedback, please feel free to email at mscheerer@niu.edu.

On September 5, 1993, Northern Illinois took the pitch for the first time as a women's soccer program at Valparaiso. It was the first time the Huskies had ever fielded an NCAA program on the women's side of the sport, as men's soccer had already been established for 30 seasons in DeKalb.

This season, the Huskies will turn 20 on the pitch and are the oldest such program in the Mid-American Conference. To put that into context, 12 members of the 2012 squad were not even born when NIU began fielding the team. I was still playing with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles at that point in time and one year removed from my first and only season of youth soccer (I scored one goal and accrued at least 25-30 offsides flags as a player if I recollect correctly).

That day NIU headed to Valparaiso, which was also the Crusaders first-ever women's soccer match. Michelle Anger scored Northern Illinois' first goal in program history from the penalty spot in the 18th minute of action, the only score of the first half. The Huskies pounced on Valpo like an injured fawn in the second period, putting six goals in net to defeat the Crusaders, 7-0.

The Huskies would go on to finish its first season 7-10-0, highlighted by a program-record 14-0 victory over Teikyo-Marycrest and four goal performance by Andrea Swing, also a program-record that still stands today.

Fast forward to 1997 and Northern Illinois returns to the Mid-American Conference after a 12-year absence from the conference. It was however, the first time in MAC history that the conference sponsored women's soccer as a sport.

With four seasons already under their belt, the Huskies were the most-established program in the newly formed women's soccer league. MAC partners, Eastern Michigan and Toledo, began sponsoring women's soccer in 1995 and Western Michigan followed suit in 1996, two and three years after Northern Illinois founded its program, respectively. Bowling Green, Kent State, Miami (Ohio) and Ohio all added programs in 1997.

Led by senior Allison Wade and junior Anne Mucci who combined for 30 goals and 25 assists, the Huskies took the MAC by storm, finishing conference play 6-1-0 en route to the first-ever MAC Regular Season Championship. NIU would claim wins over Ohio and Eastern Michigan in the MAC Tournament to finish the season 12-8-1. 

Wade's 19 goals in a single season are still the gold standard in the Northern Illinois women's soccer annals.

Northern Illinois followed up in 1998, going 14-7 with tournament and regular season championships and Mucci became just the 23rd player (at the time) in NCAA Division I women's soccer to score 40 goals and 40 assists or more in a career. She still owns the school record for goals, assists and points (43/43/129) in a career and is still only one of 41 players (U.S. Women's National team legends Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach, Kristine Lilly and Heather O'Reilly amongst the company) to score 40 goals and assists in a career.

Since winning the first two tournaments and regular season championships, Northern Illinois women's soccer has had its highs and lows since then. The team has advanced to the Mid-American Conference Tournament five times and reached the championship game in 2006 but fell to Toledo, 2-1.

First year Head Coach John Ross, the fourth gaffer (International soccer term for coach) in program history, is looking to restore some of that tradition at NIU. Ross, a native of Elmhurst, Ill., spent the last nine seasons as an assistant and associate head coach at North Dakota State, helping lead the Bison to the 2010 NCAA Tournament. NDSU tied Texas A&M, 1-1, in the contest before falling in penalty kicks, 4-3.

Ironically enough, the start of the 2012 season (though it was a preseason exhibition mind you) began in Valparaiso August 8, where the Huskies defeated the Crusaders, 1-0, on a goal off of a loose ball in the goalkeepers box by Frances Boukidis in the 52nd minute. Last Sunday, NIU recorded a 0-0 draw with IPFW to close the preseason and begin preparations for its regular season opener at Drake August  17.

The Huskies did not surrender a goal in 180 minutes of preseason play, 135 of which were played by sophomore goalkeeper Deanna Libricz. The Algonquin, Ill. native played brilliantly in the full 90-minutes versus IPFW, stopping two shots and thwarting several attacks, stepping up to collect or clear any through ball passes from the midfield.

Based solely on watching both preseason matches, I like what I've seen from the women. There's a new energy in the team and it can be seen on the pitch in the players attitudes and playing style. 

I think the 20th season could be a fun one.

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