MARQUETTE - Northern Michigan University's young goalkeepers had their rookie moments on Thursday in the Wildcats' season opener against Minnesota-Duluth.
At the same time, the keepers didn't get much help from their teammates either on corners and free kicks.
"The goalkeepers, it's going to be a learning curve," NMU head coach Matt Granstrand said. "They both did some good stuff and they both made some mistakes. I don't expect that to go away anytime soon. It takes time. You just have to bite your tongue a little and let them grow as players. They will, and there are better days ahead."
Northern Michigan’s Cheyenne Cecchini drives a ball down field during a match against Minnesota-Duluth at the NMU Soccer Field on Thursday. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
Northern's Haley Boroughf battles with Minnesota Duluth's Jennifer Smith for possession of the ball during the first half of the soccer game at Northern Michigan University on Thursday August 30, 2012. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
Northern's Taylor Smith (28) and Minnesota Duluth's Dani Potter battle for a header during the first half of the soccer game at Northern Michigan University on Thursday August 30, 2012. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
The Bulldogs prevailed 4-0 on the Wildcats' home pitch with three goals coming on set pieces, putting two balls past redshirt freshman Shelby Conard and two more past sophomore Nicole Musi.
Both Wildcat goalies were making their first collegiate appearances in goal with Conard getting the start and Musi coming on in relief with 31:07 remaining in the second half.
Conard got beat in the first half by UMD's Jennifer Smith on a free kick from just over 25-0 yards out. The soaring send by Smith snuck just underneath the cross bar and through the outstretched fingertips of the 5-foot-9 redshirt freshman.
The second goal allowed by Conard in the second half was admittedly her fault and it exposed two of what she called her biggest flaws - footwork and hesitation.
Late out of her box and overplaying the ball, UMD's Kelli Klun stole possession and fed Dani Potter for an easy empty-net goal, putting Northern down 2-0.
"I knew I should have came out. I hesitated," Conard said. "I always have a problem with hesitation. I should have came out and cleared it up instead of kind of playing it with my feet, playing with it trying to clear it sideways."
Both of the goals allowed by Musi came on corner kicks with the first bouncing off a Wildcat defender and Duluth's Sally Stromme before squeezing past the near post.
An unmarked Katie Schneider used her head to beat Musi the next time, putting NMU down 4-0.
"We struggled on set pieces offensively and defensively," Granstrand said. "I thought we made poor choices on our set pieces and defensively, we did not help out what-so-ever. We didn't fight for any 50/50 balls at the level we should be fighting."
Northern had its chances offensively in the first half against an overly aggressive Bulldog keeper in Hannah Iaizzo.
Wildcat senior Amelia Johnson was able to juke Iaizzo twice within 10 minutes in the first half to put herself in front of an empty UMD net. However, she was caught from behind by a Bulldog defender the first time and her shot found the side of the net a second time.
"Anytime you can't finish, you're frustrated, but at least we are getting the chances," Johnson said. "I know that the finishing will come as long as we keep working at it."
Continuing the offensive pressure in the first half, NMU senior Brekelle Sellers drew a direct kick minutes later after Johnson's chance. Sellers was taken down a half step outside the penalty box to gain the attempt, but her shot was blocked by the Bulldog wall.
Those chances dried up in the second half - NMU had four shots on goal in the first 45 minutes and one in the second 45 - due to adjustments made by UMD in limiting Northern's numbers up front.
Granstrand, who got 21 players in the game, said he was pleased with the effort, but the mistakes were too large to overcome against an NCAA powerhouse like Duluth.
"I thought in the first half we played really well against a quality team," Granstrand said. "I think Duluth will make the round of 16 or better this year (in the NCAA tournament).
"I thought we could have been up 3-1 at halftime. But being a young team, every time we made a mistake, we were punished and that's what happens. It was a better game than the score reflects, I think, but quality teams will finish your mistakes, and they did."
NOTES: NMU junior defender Kaylagh Hollen received a yellow card for a foul in the second half. ... NMU sophomore Taylor Smith left the game in the second half with a shoulder injury. ... The Wildcats will spend the rest of Labor Day weekend on the road in Minnesota, playing at Bemidji State at 2 p.m. on Saturday and at Minnesota-Crookston at 1 p.m. on Monday.
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.