Tomorrow the Wisconsin Badgers will play their first game of the postseason when they take on Northwestern in a quarterfinal matchup at McClimon Field.
Given the weather forecast (rainy) and prior results — the Badgers beat the Wildcats 1-0 in Evanston last month — the match will likely be a cagey, defensive affair. Northwestern coach Michael Moynihan takes pride in assembling scrappy, defensive teams that have shown the ability to thrive with their backs against the wall, and his side this year is no exception.
As with many prior Northwestern teams, the 2021 Wildcats are anchored by a stout backline. Junior transfer Hallie Pearson has been a revelation since arriving from Arizona, playing every minute of every game and anchoring the center of the defense alongside Marianna Annest. Danika Austin is another key contribuer in defense, providing some width on the flanks. Opposite Austin is converted freshman forward Ella Hase, who has proved crucial for a Wildcat team with no clear natural options at fullback. And between the pipes is three year starter Mackenzie Wood who, despite taking a slight step back last year from a pair of stellar 2019 and 2018 campaigns, remains one of the conferences’ better keepers as a reliable option in net.
The midfield is the crux of this Wildcats team, with Moynihan deploying a hyper-flexible quartet of players in the center of the park. The deepest lying of the four is Julietta Thron, a versatile junior who can also fill in at defense when needed. She’s tasked with breaking up play, serving as the lynchpin at the base of the midfield. Rowan Lapi plays in the eight spot — though it’s difficult to pin down any player in the NU midfield to conventional “six” “eight” or “ten” roles — connecting passes and tying together the defense and attacking midfield. In those attacking midfield roles are Josie Aulicino and Regan Steigleder, perhaps the team's two most important players. Given the free range to drift about anywhere necessary to get on the ball, the freshman Aulicino — with a team high three assists — and senior Steigleder (with a team high nine points) are the two main sources of creativity in the Wildcat lineup.
Northwestern usually plays with two strikers spearheading the attack, but they rotate that forward line often. Leading the line is Olivia Stone, who’s been the Wildcats most productive forward with three goals and two assists on the season. Another name to watch out for in the attack is Aurea Martin, an energetic player who can also drop back into the midfield when needed. Martin has enjoyed a strong season up front for the ‘Cats, providing three goals and an assist.
OFF THE BENCH:
Francesca Doctors has been vital for the Wildcats this spring, providing an injection of creativity in energy as a substitute against tired legs. Her unique ability to combine with Steigleder in the midfield makes her an asset to NU and a terror for opposing teams to handle. Chloe McGhee is another midfielder to watch- the junior has nine starts but appeared off the bench against Purdue and put in a very strong performance.
Wisconsin will take on Northwestern at McClimon tomorrow at PM CT, with the game broadcasted on the Big Ten Network.
Special thanks to Noah Coffman (@coffman_noah) from WNUR Sports for helping out with this preview.