Nick Gendron cares not for petty regular season goals. The senior's first goal of the season sent Northwestern (12-5-4) men's soccer into the second round of the NCAA tournament with a 1-0 win over a Western Illinois Leatherneck team that frankly, should not have been on the same field as the Wildcats, but hung around until the end. Northwestern will now travel to no. 7 Marquette Sunday for a 5 PM (ET) match-up to determine who heads to the Sweet 16.
Northwestern outshout Western Illinois, who's fans accounted for probably over 50% of the crowd at Lakeside Field, 11-0 in the first half and 19-7 overall, but didn't find the winner until Gendron's goal in the 63rd minute. Gendron has made it a habit to make big time plays in his career and it was truly impressive for the senior, who was visibly hurt and did not start in the Big Ten tournament due to a myriad of injuries and saw limited minutes, gut it out for his team in the NCAA's and keep the ‘Cats dancing for at least one more game. Northwestern did not look really threatened throughout the game holding about 80% of the possession, though, in typical Northwestern fashion did not put the Leathernecks away. A rare miscue from 1st Team All-Big Ten goalkeeper Tyler Miller allowed a hail mary, if you will, for Western Illinois in the form of a corner kick in the last 30 seconds causing a scramble inside NU's 18 yard box, but unlike the football game nobody got on the end of it and the Wildcats survived and advance to the next round.
So, on to Marquette. The Golden Eagles as the seven seed, seem like a particularly good draw for Northwestern, despite their 16-3-1 record. This Marquette team does not have any NCAA tournament experience and the program has only been to one NCAA tournament (1997) in its history. Marquette has talent in guys like Andy Huftalin (10 G, 4 A), Axel Sjoberg (8 G, 3 A), and Bryan Ciesiulka (5 G, 9 A), but they are new to the moment. This senior class for Northwestern on the other hand, has been to three NCAA tournaments including a trip to the Sweet 16 in their freshman year and also have the three Big Ten titles to their name. A road NCAA tournament game is nothing new to them and they won't be intimidated.
Marquette is the favorite in this game being the home team and top 10 ranked most of the season, but you have to like Northwestern's chances with a great goalkeeper in Miller, two All-Big Ten centerbacks, Nikko Boxall and Jarrett Baughman anchoring the defense, a professional-ready defensive midfielder who is so good he won Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in Chris Ritter and a very good finisher up top in Joey Calistri.
A win would set up a probable match up at no. 10 Louisville for a chance to match Northwestern's furthest ever advancement in the NCAA tournament (Elite Eight in 2006, 2008).
The three other Big Ten teams are still alive as well as Michigan and Michigan State won their first round match-up along with Indiana being seeded and thus, received a bye to the second round. The entire NCAA bracket can be seen here.