Northwestern – Four Star Recruiting Class – Northwestern had another successful season last year sharing the Big Ten regular season title with Penn State and earning their seventh berth in the NCAA Tourney since Tim Lenahan assumed the head coaching role in 2001. The Wildcats subsequently confirmed that they belonged in the NCAA Tourney field by topping Western Illinois and number seven seed Marquette before losing 2-1 to tenth seeded Louisville.
Northwestern graduated three starters but with eight starters back including fifth year senior Chris Ritter (5g, 6a) who was the 2012 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year reinforced by a very good six member recruiting class that includes two players ranked by College Soccer News as among the top 150 newcomers in the country the Wildcats should again be very competitive in 2013.
The Wildcats must replace center back and team captain Jarrett Baughman (1g, 1a) who was a 2012 All-Big Ten Second Team selection and veteran midfielders Kyle Schickel (4g, 1a) and Nick Gendron (2g, 3a) due to graduation.
The Northwestern attack will start with sophomore forward Joey Calistri (9g, 2a) who led the Wildcats in scoring last year. Calistri, the unanimous 2012 All-Big Ten Freshman of the Year, will look to build on a very successful rookie season. The key to Northwestern’s present and future offensive productivity may reside with Calistri who has the potential to continue to improve. But the Wildcats will need others to add balance to the attack and fill the gap that exists on the offensive side of the ball due to the departure of Schickel and Gendron if they hope to challenge for the Big Ten title again in 2013. Senior Reed Losee and junior Peter Hormer are among other returning forwards who will seek to increase their playing time in 2013.
Seniors Lepe Seetane (1g, 0a) and Layth Masri who have been starters for the past three seasons return in the midfield. Junior Eric Weberman (3g, 4a) and sophomore Cole Missimo (0g. 1a) who cracked the stating lineup at times last year and gave the team valuable minutes will look to make an even greater contribution in 2013. Senior Jeff Rodgers who saw limited action last year is among other returning midfielders. Brandon Medina Ruiz may be the best-prepared newcomer. The highly touted NSCAA High School All-American and the Illinois Gatorade Player of the Year should push for playing time and add an additional dimension immediately to the Wildcat midfield.
Ritter, who turned down the opportunity to enter the professional ranks to return for his senior year, was considered by many to be the glue that held the team together last year. In addition to Ritter, a solid core returns from a backline that played hard-nosed defense last year and caused headaches for their opponents allowing a total of only twenty goals. The catalyst for the Wildcats staunch defense in 2013 will be junior center back Nikko Boxall (1g, 1a) who was a 2012 All-Big Ten First Team selection. Boxall and Ritter won’t be the sole leaders on the defense as senior Scott Lakin (0g, 1a) and junior Grant Wilson (1g, 7a) who were starters last year also return. Sophomore Henry Herrill (1g, 3a), who played in eighteen contests last year, is other returning backs who will look to expand their role in 2013. Incoming freshman center back Nathan Dearth has the size, athleticism, and determination to challenge for playing time immediately.
Junior Tyler Miller returns between the pipes with two very impressive years of starting experience in goal. Miller, a 2012 First Team All-Big Ten selection, recorded ten shutouts last year with an impressive goals against average of 0.82.
Its tough to find fault with anything that Lenahan has done at Northwestern. He has created a winning tradition, recruited talented team players who fit within his system of play, put the program solidly on the college soccer map, and along the way helped a bunch of his assistant coaches assume head coaching positions. The most recent being Neil Jones who became the ninth assistant coach who has worked under Lenahan over the years to become a head coach when he was named the head coach at Loyola University Chicago after three seasons at Northwestern.
The Big Ten will be tough from top to bottom in 2013. Every team has game and there simply are no easy wins. For the past few years, the Big Ten has been a difficult conference to predict. Expect it to be another “anybody can beat anybody” on a given day 2013 season. For evidence of this you need look no further than the fact that last year Northwestern and Penn State shared the Big Ten regular season title with 3-1-2 records, that number five seed Michigan State won the Big Ten Tournament title by topping Michigan 2-1 in the championship match in overtime, and that Indiana University won the 2012 National Championship after being eliminated for the first time ever in the first round of the Big Ten Tourney.
The key at Northwestern in 2013 will be for all the individual pieces to play to their potential while merging together into a unified team. Lenahan indicated his team responded like “warriors” when placed under pressure in their big 2012 NCAA Tourney win over Marquette. That “warrior” mentality just might give the Wildcats the edge they need to succeed again in 2013.
Nathan Dearth – Defender – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – Montour High School – Conference Player of the Year in 2011 and 2012. First-Team All-State. Rated by CSN as #148 recruit in the class of 2013.
Jeffrey Hopson – Midfielder – Chesterfield, Missouri – St. Louis Priory – First-Team All-State. Eleven year member of St. Louis Scott Gallagher. First Team All-Metro. First Team All-League.
Brandon Medina Ruiz – Midfielder – Chicago, Illinois, Mexico City, Mexico – St. Ignatius College Prep.– NSCAA High School All-American. All-State. Rated by CSN as #116 recruit in the class of 2013.
Mike Roberge – Forward – Murrysville, Pennsylvania – Franklin Regional High – Four-year member of the Beadling Soccer Club. All-Sectional. All-Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League.
Drew Rosenberg – Midfielder – Short Hills, N.J. – Millburn High School – The Peddie School – 2012 First Team All-State Prep. First Team All MAPL. Three-year member of Match Fit Chelsea Academy.
Getenet T. Worku – Forward – St. Paul, Minnesota – Central High School – Two-time Minnesota First-Team All-State. Three-year member of Minnesota Thunder Academy. A goal scorer.