April 29, 2009
CHICAGO - The Northern Illinois women's soccer team capped off its eight-match spring schedule Sunday with a pair of contests at Soldier Field in the KICKS Against Breast Cancer Invitational. The Huskies battled to scoreless ties with 2008 national runner-up Notre Dame and in-state foe Northwestern.
In addition to Notre Dame and Northwestern, NIU joined Illinois, Wisconsin, Marquette and DePaul in raising awareness and funds for breast cancer research and treatment. Players from the participating schools accepted a challenge of raising $1,000 per team to help in the fight against breast cancer. NIU players sold t-shirts prior to the event to raise money.
The seven-team invitational, held at the legendary lakefront home of the Chicago Bears for the first time, was the last of several KICKS competitions played across the country in 2009. Other events, which attracted the top collegiate soccer teams in the country, were held in Maryland and at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif.
In NIU's first match of the day, the Huskies battled to a 0-0 tie with Notre Dame, who went 26-1-0 and reached the NCAA national championship match in 2008. Despite good scoring chances early in the first half, the Huskies couldn't find the net and the match was scoreless after one session.
NIU's best chance came in the second minute, when sophomore Annie Wyer found junior Lisa Maier with a beautiful cross in the box, but Maier's header was saved. Just a few minutes later, Maier took a pass from junior Kelly Mullany in the box, made a defender miss and fired a shot just wide of the right post.
The Fighting Irish found good scoring opportunities in the second half, but NIU goalkeeper Audrey Holmer and the Huskie defense held strong and the match ended in a tie.
NIU head coach Carrie Barker
was very pleased with the Huskies' effort against one of the best teams in the country.
"It was a great game," said Barker. "Notre Dame is very talented and to tie the national runner-up from last year is very exciting. Everybody did their job and we had some great chances to score early in the first half. The girls worked really hard and I'm very proud of the way we competed."
The Huskies' second match against Northwestern was a defensive struggle that also ended in a 0-0 tie. Wearing their all-black uniforms, NIU dominated play for the first 40 minutes, creating three great scoring opportunities and completely shutting down the Wildcat attack.
Sophomore Becca Ford found Maier wide open inside the box in the 4th minute, but the Northwestern goalkeeper made a tough save from 10 yards out. In the 23rd minute, sophomore Kim Schmitt nailed the crossbar from just outside the box and the Northwestern defense cleared the rebound, ending the Huskies best scoring chance of the match. Wyer created the Huskies final scoring opportunity in the 33rd minute when she found Mo Smunt on a cross, but Smunt couldn't convert from just inside the box.
For the majority of the match, NIU goalkeeper Meaghan Bennett was lonely at the back end, as defenders Smunt, Maier, Christian Schuler and Michelle Damas easily turned away potential Northwestern scoring opportunities. However, Bennett needed to make two key saves near the end of the second half to keep the Wildcats off the scoreboard.
Bennett denied Northwestern attacks in the 43rd and 44th minutes, including a diving stop on a cross from five yards out. Maier tripped up a Northwestern forward just outside the box in the final minute, and the Wildcats were rewarded a free kick with less than 40 seconds remaining. The NIU defensive wall stood tall though, blocking two shots to help Bennett record the shutout.
Northwestern shutout NIU 2-0 on April 4 in Rockford, Ill. Barker, who owns more than ten years of assistant coaching experience against NU in the Big Ten, saw significant improvement from her squad since its last matchup with the Wildcats.
"The last time [NIU played Northwestern] we didn't come out very strong in the first 10 minutes," said Barker. "It took us too long to adjust and that cost us the game. Today we played a full game. Mentally we were focused for the entire 50 minutes."
After watching the Huskies hold a Big East and Big Ten team scoreless on the same day, Barker had high praise for her defense.
"We won a lot of individual battles today and really played great as an entire unit," said Barker. "I couldn't have asked for more from our team today, both individually and collectively."
A group of about 80 NIU supporters, donned in red and black, came out to enthusiastically cheer on the Huskies in their on-field battles and in the fight against breast cancer. The Huskie contingent gave the team a standing ovation following both matches.
"The crowd was amazing," said Barker. "I was very happy with the support we had at Soldier Field today. Our crowd was very loud. They were extremely positive the whole day and our girls definitely appreciated their presence."
After a full day of exciting soccer action, Barker was extremely grateful for the opportunity to participate in the inaugural Soldier Field KICKS Against Breast Cancer Invitational.
"The experience exceeded all of our expectations," said a smiling Barker. "We were treated great and the entire event was run first-class. Our girls got to play some of the best teams in the country and they handled themselves professionally both on and off the field. We couldn't have asked for a better experience."
The KICKS Against Breast Cancer Tournament, founded by Louise Waxler, honors the memory of Claudia Mayer, who died of breast cancer at the age of 47 in 1996. The event set a fundraising goal of $100,000 and the proceeds will be shared with the Children's Memorial Hospital Research Center of Chicago.