EVANSTON, Ill. – The No. 15 Michigan State women's soccer team assumed the top spot in the Big Ten Conference standings Sunday afternoon, as the Spartans battled to secure a thrilling 2-1 win over the No. 5 Northwestern Wildcats at Lanny and Sharon Martin Stadium.
Michigan State improves to 12-1-3 overall in the 2022 season and holds a 7-0-1 record against B1G opponents. The Green & White have already tied the program record for Big Ten wins in a single season, matching the 2011 team that finished 7-4 in the league. The Spartans improve to a blistering 3-1 against nationally ranked challengers, having dispatched with then-No. 19 Colorado, then-No. 6 Penn State and fifth-ranked Northwestern in a span of just over a month. The Wildcats drop to 12-2-2 and 6-1-1 in the Big Ten, falling into sole possession of second in the standings.
In the box score, MSU built up a solid 12-8 edge over Northwestern in shot attempts and limited the Wildcats to only three shots on goal in the game. Fouls came in abundance during the top-15 contest, as Northwestern committed 12 to Michigan State's 11. Graduate midfielder Celia Gaynor and graduate defender Samantha White each tallied goals in the game, while graduate defender Ruby Diodati came in clutch with her Big-Ten leading seventh assist of the year on Gaynor's game-winner in the 21st.
In one of the most crucial opening periods of the season, Michigan State was in its best form on both ends of the field. The Spartans possessed the ball early and often, capitalizing on high-intensity defensive pressure that gave way to excellent scoring opportunities on the other end. In the first 45 minutes, Michigan State ran up a 6-1 edge in shot attempts and yielded no shots on goal from Northwestern.
MSU broke the game open in the 13th minute, as offensive pressure led the Green & White to their third corner kick of the frame. Diodati served a ball into the box, which bounced around for a bit until it found White on the center edge of the penalty area. White belted a magnificent ball through a mob past the keeper's glove for the opening score.
Defensive dominance gave way to yet another Spartan breakaway opportunity less than seven minutes later, as a Northwestern lapse left freshman midfielder Courtney Koehler wide open in the middle of the field. She served the ball ahead to graduate forward Camryn Evans, who lost possession on a solid slide tackle from an NU defender that rolled across the Wildcat endline. The ensuing corner kick led Diodati to the north nearside corner once again, and an immaculate volley to the far post found Celia Gaynor for the header goal in the 21st. Each squad maintained the status quo for the remainder of the period, and MSU snapped Northwestern's 10-game first-half goal streak, leading 2-0 at the break.
Northwestern found renewed hope following the intermission, as the Wildcats notched their first goal of the game on a penalty kick in the 55th minute. An MSU defender was called for the foul about four feet inside the box, and Rowan Lapi's PK attempt rolled comfortably into the bottom right corner. Michigan State's defensive adjustments stymied the Wildcat momentum for a bit, and the game began to mellow out. Intensity and physicality were crucial in the waning moments, as each squad locked in for an intense finish.
The final seven minutes featured a pair of yellow cards, with one assessed to each team. Just as Northwestern was about to gear up for their final offensive push to book the draw, a frustration foul by Lapi culminated in a stoppage and card with less than 10 seconds to play. MSU's ensuing free kick was belted into the Chicago sky, and Michigan State assumed the top spot in the Big Ten table for the first time since the league's inaugural women's soccer season in 1994.
In goal for Michigan State, senior keeper Lauren Kozal tallied a pair of saves and allowed one score from the top-five side in 90 minutes of action. The Ada, Michigan, native earned her 12th victory between the posts this season. Saddled with the loss, Wildcat graduate keeper Mia Raben allowed two goals with three saves.