It was the third time in the past eight years that the Northwestern Wildcats have traveled to Audrey J. Walton Stadium for the MU women’s soccer home opener. This time, the result was different.
Missouri won 2-0 against Northwestern on Sunday afternoon in its second game of the season. The Tigers had lost to the Wildcats 4-2 in 1996 and 1998.
Jennifer Nobis headed in a corner kick from Karen Bauer in the 49th minute to give the Tigers (2-0) the lead, and Kristen Heil scored an unassisted goal with seven minutes left.
Sloppy weather, field conditions and play characterized the game. It rained heavily throughout, forcing the Tigers to adjust their style after a scoreless first half.
“As a team we decided at halftime to get rid of pretty soccer and play ugly soccer,” goalkeeper Stephanie Krawczyk said. “We’re normally more of a passing team, but today we had to boot and run.”
Krawczyk notched her first win and shutout, making seven saves. It wasn’t an easy task.
“Crazy ... it’s the only word to describe it,” Krawczyk said. “The ball would just stop on the field and we couldn’t seem to clear it.”
During an even first half, the rain contributed to a faster pace with the ball sliding easily across the wet grass. There were close calls on the ends of the field, with goalkeepers coming off their lines to challenge attackers. Toward the end of the first half, however, the rain began to collect, making it seem like tributaries of the Missouri River were flowing through the field, slowing down the ball and the players.
After drying off and regrouping during halftime, both teams started the second half with a flurry. Missouri’s Aria Hudetz took two corner kicks within the first minute. Northwestern’s Ashleigh Garmon countered on the other end with a long break. Three minutes later, Missouri scored when Bauer’s corner kick connected with Nobis’ head.
“Corner kicks are the one thing you have to finish on,” Nobis said. “It’s in the air, so the wetness of the field is no excuse. We had to get it in, we tried our hardest and it worked.”
Nobis celebrated her goal by taking a 15-foot slide on her back down the muddy field.
“I didn’t plan the celebration,” Nobis said. “Usually I just run around with my finger in the air, but I tried to make it entertaining today.”
Although the goal gave the Tigers confidence, the Wildcats (0-2) didn’t let up. With eight shots in the second half, Northwestern kept the MU defense on its toes, keeping the ball in the Tiger’s end in the last 20 minutes.
Kristen Heil finally gave MU some breathing room. She picked up a long ball sent up the right side and dribbled toward the net. Goalkeeper Whitney Jones came out but lost her footing, allowing Heil to slide the ball into the net.
Northwestern continued its attack until the end, with Shannon Schneeman ripping a shot from the top of the box with 38 seconds left. Krawczyk fumbled the ball and was forced to dive backwards to complete the save.
MU coach Bryan Blitz said the efforts of his team pleased him, especially considering the circumstances.
“This was something that would’ve mentally put us off last year,” Blitz said. “The conditions and tie game at half were both frustrating. This year, however, we’re more mentally focused and we found a way to win.”
The Tigers will look to extend their winning streak this weekend when they host Arizona, Arkansas and Purdue in the Nike Tiger Invitational.
Although all three will be formidable opponents, coach Blitz said he is optimistic.
“All of the teams seem pretty even and it’ll be interesting to see the level of play,” Blitz said. “The goal for the weekend is to play to our potential. We’re starting off really well, but I always tell my players it’s not how you start but how you finish.”