After a 16-5-2 season that saw them make the Sweet 16, not much has changed for the Wildcats. Most of the starters are returning, but a few notable departures leave questions going into 2023. We break down our three biggest here:
#1: How do the ‘Cats fill the role of Rowan Lapi?
Northwestern is returning a majority of its production from 2022, but one major departure was Rowan Lapi. The midfielder scored six goals while dishing out three assists across 23 starts, but this season, her cat of choice will be a Nittany Lion rather than a Wildcat. The loss of an All-Big Ten Second Teamer is major, so the ‘Cats will need to figure out their strategy going forward.
Offensively, Northwestern is in good hands (or feet). The ‘Cats are returning four out of their five top goalscorers and 84% of their total goalscoring production, so there shouldn’t be much disruption there. The defensive side of the ball is where any transitionary pains may occur. Lapi was a force defensively, acting as a sweeper in front of the backline, handling all loose balls and dominating aerial duels. Keeping the backline intact should keep Lapi’s departure from being a major issue, but the midfield will need to step up. Incoming transfer Jaelyn Eisenhart, who is listed as a defender/midfielder, should contribute to that cause. They do say that the best defense is a good offense though, so that could be a possible workaround as well. That strategy certainly worked in the season opener at Marquette, which the ‘Cats won 4-0.
#2: Who will be between the sticks?
Last season, Northwestern’s goal was kept secure by grad transfer Mia Raben, but there was always a dwindling timer on that successful relationship. There are two likely replacements for the Wildcats, one of whom was already on the roster and one who is following the Raben model.
The first option is sophomore Reiley Fitzpatrick, who is looking to take over the starting role after featuring heavily in the first half of the 2022 season. In 495 minutes played, Fitzpatrick made five saves while allowing four goals on 28 shots faced. She is familiar with the lakeside environment of Martin Stadium and the program as a whole. Her year of experience could give her a leg up in the keeper competition.
The second option is graduate transfer Gina Muzi. A Wisconsin native, Muzi returns closer to home after time spent at Portland and St. John’s. At St. John’s – her most recent stop – Muzi made 19 starts with 42 saves and 16 goals allowed. If she can mesh with the Northwestern backline as Raben did, she has a solid chance at the starting job.
If coach Michael Moynihan’s strategy is similar to last year, there could be an element of goalkeeping by committee. In 2022, both Raben and Fitzpatrick played the first 11 games of the season before Raben took over full time. This season is off to a similar start. Fitzpatrick received the start, going 82 minutes before Muzi came on to finish the game. A definitive answer on this season’s keeper likely won’t come until conference play begins in September.
#3: Will there be another breakout first-year?
While there were plenty of different reasons for Northwestern’s success last season, the emergence of the eventual Big Ten Freshman of the Year was definitely a major factor. Caterina Regazzoni made 22 starts in her first campaign with the Wildcats, scoring three goals and delivering three assists. Her abilities were made known from the get-go, as she scored the very first goal of the season for the ‘Cats. This production from a first-year, who made the All-Big Ten Third and Freshman teams, gave Northwestern the opportunity to improve its offensive prowess, which worked out well. With only one major gap in the starting lineup, will 2023 see another first-year step up?
Early signs point toward Holland Carey as a possible candidate. The midfielder got the start in the season opener at Marquette, playing 79 minutes and registering an assist. It only took until her first touch to get involved, as she played the through ball to Meg Boade that eventually ended up as an Ella Hase first-minute goal.
The Marquette game offered a few other options as well. Forward Megan Norkett and defender Keira Wagner both played at least 20 minutes, with both first-years recording a shot in their first collegiate appearance.
If Northwestern can add another scoring threat or sound defender from this new class, the team will be in a good spot not only in 2023, but over the next few years as well.