June 16, 2008
EVANSTON, Ill. -
Northwestern head men's soccer coach Tim Lenahan approached his team's non-traditional season similar to how most coaches would. Coming off the most successful regular season in school history, the Wildcats aimed to continue the momentum while at the same time forging a new identity for the upcoming campaign. The result was a 5-1-2 record with the team surrendering just four goals in the eight matches, including posting six shutouts.
"All in all, I think it was a very positive spring," said Lenahan. "One of our goals was to not just stay connected as a team, but become a new team. We needed to move on from any successes from last year, and I think we were able to do that. We had a big loss in David Roth in terms of his personality, so we wanted to be able to re-identify ourselves."
The Wildcats' first test came in late February against a UIC squad that topped them in the second round of the NCAA tournament last season en route to the Flames reaching the national quarterfinals. This time around the squads played to a 2-2 draw with Piero Bellizzi and Eamon O'Neill tallying goals for NU.
Northwestern played a pair of 60-minute matches April 5, playing the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay to a scoreless tie before topping Lewis 1-0 on Bellizzi's second goal of the spring. The reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year kept things going one week later in a 2-0 win over Bradley as both he and Jack Hillgard found the back of the net.
"We wanted to establish what the strengths of this group would be," said Lenehan. "One of the things we talked about was being very versatile in terms of the systems that we play, to move easily from system to systems based on situation or which personnel we're playing. In the spring we played a 4-4-2, a 4-5-1, a 3-5-2, a 3-4-3 and varied within those systems. We had some fun with that.
"The one setback we had against Western Illinois (2-1), we played a 3-4-3 that day and really tried to attack. When you play that system, you know you're going to give up some goals, but we probably should have scored about three or four."
The Wildcats concluded their spring season April 27 when it hosted three other schools for a series of 45-minute matches. Northwestern opened the day with a 2-0 victory over the University of Wisconsin-Parkside with O'Neill and Cody Stanley doing the scoring honors. Rising sophomore Matt Eliason was the lone player to tally in a 1-0 win over local rival DePaul before NU concluded the tourney with a 3-0 triumph of the University of Chicago. Stanley, Eliason and Drew Pavlovich each notched goals for the 'Cats in the win.
"You want to be playing your best at the end, as opposed to at the beginning. The last game we won 3-0, 2-0 and 1-0 against a Division III opponent, a Division II opponent and a Division I opponent. We really played well in that last weekend, which I think is always your goal."
The Wildcats played short-handed throughout a good portion of the spring as a total of seven players, including numerous key starters, had to sit out extended time due to off-season surgeries. However, Lenahan said that wasn't necessarily a bad thing.
"It was nice to get some of the freshman who didn't play much last season up to speed," he said. "I thought that Cody Stanley and Jack Hillgard were two guys who really stepped up. Piero Bellizzi scored four goals in the spring, which continues to bode well.
"When some of your key players are out, it allows some other players to really step up and I thought that Jack and Cody were the two who really took advantage of that."
Be sure to check back to NUsports.com soon for the release of the schedule for upcoming 2008 season.