Northwest soccer has started its regular season, and the Bearcats got off on the right foot, earning a win in each of their first two games.
After playing through two exhibition matches before the regular season, the Bearcats were finally set to get back onto the pitch for official play.
The first weekend of matches put them against Sioux Falls Sept. 3 and Wayne State Sept. 5. For the first time in six years — the 2014 season, when they finished 7-10-1 — the Bearcats came away with a win in their first two games to start the regular season.
Northwest (2-0) defeated Sioux Falls (0-2) by a score of 2-0 and Wayne State (0-1) 4-2.
The team was spearheaded by a strong offensive effort in both games, putting up 46 shots through the weekend. Shots on the goal haven't been that high for Northwest soccer since the first two games of 2012 season, when the ’Cats posted 57 shot attempts in the regular season's first two matchups.
Coach Marc Gordon said he believes the confidence is growing within the team, and everyone is connecting and playing together.
“Players are starting to see the picture that we, as a coaching staff, are trying to paint for them,” Gordon said.
The more opportunities a team has to score usually fares well, which was the case for the Bearcats in their first weekend of play. Gordon said he hopes the trend continues, and the opportunities can continue to increase.
Sophomore forward Teagan Blackburn turned two of those attempts into goals against Wayne State.
“Putting two goals in the back of the net was exciting,” Blackburn said. “As a forward, you feel that sense of accomplishment and know that you are doing an important part of your job.”
Blackburn, though, took time to thank her teammates for her personal success in the scoring column.
“Those two goals were a result of the team's effort,” Blackburn said.
Senior midfielder Jessie Brown said the team needs to work on putting the ball in the back of the net, but she still liked the effort that was on display.
“It’s awesome to be having that level of success and getting the opportunity to shoot on goal,” Brown said.
The Bearcats did not play without a defense, proven by their 12 saves throughout the weekend, which helped pitch a shutout against Sioux Falls and hold Wayne State scoreless in the second half.
Senior goalkeeper Alexis Serna Castillo said she trusts her defense and knows they’ll always be there to help.
“We still need to build together and develop the connection and communication,” Castillo said. “But other than that, I know we will continue to work on defensive plays and how to connect with one another more effectively.”
Although the defense stepped up when it counted to seal both victories for the Bearcats, they had a little hiccup in the first half against Wayne State — allowing two goals.
That left Castillo with one mission going into the second half: make sure the Wildcats had scored their last goal.
She did just that.
“Coming into the second half, I had to make sure I adapted to the game since I was not in the first half,” Castillo said. “My defense helped me achieve the goal to keep the shutout in the second half.”
The Bearcats were able to hold their two opponents from scoring in all but one half of play, but Gordon wants to see even more improvement on that side of the pitch, he said. He said the season has just begun, but he wants to see the team defend better as a group, particularly in the middle-third of the field.
“The dirty work in our game is done on the defensive side,” Gordon said.
With the first two games in the books, Northwest now looks ahead to the second weekend of regular-season games. The Bearcats will face two relatively new, and tougher, opponents.
For the first matchup, the Bearcats will travel to a neutral site for both teams, Warrensburg, Missouri, Sept. 10 to take on Grand Valley State. This will be the first match between the Bearcats and Lakers in the history of the two programs.
In the United Soccer Coaches’ Division II Preseason Poll, Grand Valley State (2-0) was ranked at No. 9 and is currently coming off a 2-0 victory against No. 24 Findlay University. The Lakers are owners of six of the last 13 NCAA Division II women’s soccer championships, including from the last full season in 2019.
In the second game of the weekend, Northwest will stay at the Bearcat Pitch for a matchup with Minnesota State University-Mankato Sept. 12. The Mavericks (1-0) kicked off their regular season with a 1-0 win against Northwest’s MIAA foe, Missouri Southern.
Gordon said he embraces the opportunity to play against teams he believes are tougher competition.
“It’s an opportunity for us as a team to see at the very highest level what teams play like, where we need to grow and how we need to compete,” Gordon said. “We’re going into this very open minded.”
Brown said starting the season off strong is exactly what they wanted, and it boosts the confidence of everyone. Now, as they move forward, she said there are still things that need to be remembered.
“Like I said, we know that we can do it. Now, it’s making sure that we continue to get it done,” Brown said. “We can’t let up, regardless of who the opponent is. I think that we have the strength and the talent to go all the way; now it’s a matter of controlling the controllables and making sure we continue to put our best foot forward.”