With the end of the 2022 Northwest soccer season, there is a lot to take away as the team prepares for the offseason and its 2023 campaign.
Coach Marc Gordon said there was a lot of maturity and growth from the team after this year.
“I was curious about what we were going to do early on in the season,” Gordon said. “We were feeling some pressure trying to live up to expectations of the previous year, and I think it was getting in the way of the team defining who they were going to be and once they worked through that we played differently.”
The first month of the season, the Bearcats gave them a record of 5-4-2. One of those matches was against Nebraska-Kearney Sept. 25, where freshman defender Zoie Dible scored her first collegiate goal from outside the penalty box and helped the Bearcats to a 4-0 win.
After a loss to Emporia State Sept. 30, the Bearcats went on an eight-game win streak, shutting out six of the eight teams they faced. The only goal Northwest allowed in that span was Oct. 16 in a 2-1 win over Rogers State. Redshirt freshman goalkeeper Lily Ellis had six shutouts during that month.
With the win streak to end the regular season, the ‘Cats finished with a record of 12-4-2 and clinched the No. 3 seed in the MIAA Tournament.
“This team is positive even when we had a rough patch in the first half of the season,” Ellis said. “That positivity was needed during the win streak and the run in the postseason.”
For the second time in program history, the quarterfinal round of the MIAA Tournament was played at Bearcat Pitch. In the 2021 tournament, the Washburn Ichabods were shut out 5-0 in Maryville, and the Bearcats advanced to play Emporia State in Warrensburg, Missouri.
It was déjà vu this year. The Bearcats defeated Washburn 3-0 Oct. 30 and advanced to the semifinal round to take on Emporia State Nov. 4 in Warrensburg. Northwest fell short to the Hornets in the conference semifinals for the second year in a row.
The conference tournament run, along with the success in the regular season, was enough to get the Bearcats the No. 6 seed in the Central Region of the Division II NCAA Tournament. The Bearcats faced Minnesota State-Mankato Nov. 11 at a snow-covered field in Bemidji, Minnesota. Toward the end of the first half of the playoff match, junior defender Caroline Sanders scored her first goal of the season and was the first goal ever by a Bearcat in an NCAA Tournament game.
The cold game was tied after regulation and went into overtime. The two squads finished the game in penalty kicks where the Mavericks ran away with the win 3-1. The ’Cats finished the season with an overall record of 13-5-3.
Junior forward Kaylie Rock finished on top of the MIAA in assists with 13 and scored her program-best 19th goal against Central Oklahoma Oct. 9. Sophomore Hannah Stirling tied for second most game-winning goals this season with five. Ellis finished in first place in the conference in saves (nine) and shutouts (13), which is also the most in a single season in program history.
All three players, along with senior defender Letycia Bonifacio, were honored on the Division II Conference Commissioners Association All-Central Region team.
“It’s amazing to see what we’ve accomplished this year,” Ellis said. “Going into next year, we are going to be in a good spot, and I hope we can make it farther.”
Going into the offseason, five Bearcats will be graduating. The senior class includes goalkeeper Grace Goetsch, defenders Bonifacio and Sanders, midfielder Annelize Aleixo and forward Kaitlyn Case.
Eight players have been recruited by the Bearcats. The new faces for Northwest going into the 2023 season include goalkeeper Leyah Scott, defender Chloe Collins, midfielder Makenna West and Xiemena Arnau, forwards Peyton Anderson, Abby Overbay, Lillie Shaw and Ekaterina Theoharidis.
It will be nine months before the Bearcats take the pitch again for a game, but Gordon said there’s plenty of preparation to do before then.
“I want the players to focus on school and recovery,” Gordon said. “We will have opportunities to meet with them, start planning spring training and try to continue to grow in the areas that went well for us this season. We can separate ourselves from what we’ve done and see if we can propel this again.”