MACOMB, Ill. - After winning its second straight Summit League crown, Western Illinois soccer is now seeking its first-ever NCAA Tournament victory as it travels to Evanston to take on state-rival Northwestern on Thursday at 7 p.m.
The Leathernecks (7-8-5) upset the top two seeds in the conference playoffs to return to the NCAA postseason for the second consecutive year, and are riding a six-game undefeated streak (4-0-2).
Northwestern (11-5-4) won a share of the Big Ten title, but had to wait for the Selection Show before finding out it received an at-large bid into the tournament.
The in-state foes are familiar opponents, as they've played each other 17 times. Northwestern holds a 10-7 advantage, winning five straight. The Wildcats also topped WIU in the Leathernecks' first NCAA Tournament in 2004, 4-1.
The winner of the game will advance to the Second Round and travel to Milwaukee to play seventh-seeded and 10th-ranked Marquette on Sunday at 4 p.m.
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SERIES HISTORY: Northwestern holds a 10-7 advantage all-time...The teams last played in 2009 - Northwestern, then ranked 16th, won 3-2 after overcoming a 2-1 halftime deficit...This is also the second time the teams have met in the NCAA Tournament, as the Wildcats topped the Leathernecks 4-1 in WIU’s first-ever appearance in 2004.
LAST TIME OUT: The Leathernecks upset the top two seeds in The Summit League Tournament to earn the conference’s automatic bid...After an overtime header from senior Nathan Bruinsma in overtime helped WIU beat Kansas City 1-0, Bruinsma struck again against top-seeded Oakland for two goals...Freshman Tyler Chavez netted the game-winner in the 68th minute...Northwestern fell in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament to Michigan, 3-0...In the quarterfinals, the Wildcats topped Ohio State 2-0 behind goals from Kyle Schickel and Joey Calistri.
SUMMIT SUCCESS: Western has been dominant in The Summit League playoffs in recent years, holding an 11-1-1 record since 2004...The Leathernecks are also the first team to win back-to-back conference titles since Western earned a three-peat from 2004-06.
HE’S ON FIRE: Bruinsma has scored six goals in the past five games, including a pair of game-winners...Over that span, he has taken 16 shots and 12 shots on goal...The senior leads the team in points (18) and goals (eight), and has added his first two career multi-goal games...When Bruinsma scores, Western has a 5-0-1 record this season.
THE EDMOND-BRUINSMA CONNECTION: Junior Drew Edmond leads the Leathernecks with five assists on the season...All five came on goals scored by Bruinsma, including all three of his goals during the conference tournament.
OFFENSIVE DEFENDER: Junior defender Charlie Bales, the reigning Summit League Defensive Player of the Year, is also an offensive threat in addition to a significant defensive presence...He’s second on the team in assists (4) and has totaled 16 points in his three-year career as a Leatherneck...he also surpassed 100 career shots in the Leathernecks’ game at IUPUI, tallying his 99th, 100th, and 101st career shots in the match.
ALL-TOURNEY: By winning The Summit League Tournament, Western received four representatives on the All-Tournament Team: Bruinsma, Edmond, Bales, and sophomore keeper Yves Dietrich...Bruinsma scored three goals on nine shots (six shots on goal)...Edmond tallied three assists and added a shot on goal...Bales anchored a strong defense and took five shots (three shots on goal)...Dietrich posted a 2-0 record in goal and saved 10 of the 11 shots on goal he faced, adding a shutout against Kansas City.
CLOSE CONTESTS: Of the Leathernecks’ eight losses, five have come by just one goal: Central Arkansas (1-0), Graceland (1-0), UIC (1-0), Northern Kentucky (1-0) and Drake (2-1).
TOURNAMENT HISTORY: 2012 marks Western Illinois’ sixth trip to the NCAA Tournament, all coming in the past nine years...Western is 0-5 all-time, falling 4-1 in Northwestern in 2004, 2-0 to Notre Dame in 2005, 3-0 to UIC in 2006, 2-1 to Drake in 2009 and 3-0 to Northern Illinois in 2011.
CHANGE OF FORTUNE: In early October, Western stood at 2-7-2 and was as low as seventh in the conference standings...since then, the Leathernecks have gone 5-1-3, including 3-1-1 in league play.
WINNING LEGACY: Head coach Dr. Eric Johnson is The Summit League’s all-time winningest coach, totaling 136 wins at the helm of the men’s soccer program.
INJURY RIDDLED: The majority of this year’s roster has dealt with injury issues at some point this year: Only sophomore goalie Yves Dietrich has started every game, while just one other player, senior Aaron Appel, has appeared in all 20 contests.