NU soccer looks to keep season alive

EVANSTON, Ill. – Northwestern junior Oliver Kupe’s collegiate soccer career may have peaked as a freshman.

With the Wildcats trailing 1-0 to Notre Dame in the second round of the NCAA tournament in 2008, Kupe was called upon off the bench in the second half. He provided the spark Northwestern coach Tim Lenahan was hoping for and whole lot more. He scored his first two Northwestern goals, and the Wildcats defeated the Irish 2-1.

“It was the greatest moment of my soccer career,” Kupe said. “It was phenomenal. It was a great win for our team and our program.”

Now, Kupe is searching for something better, and he believes over the next few days he can find it.

For Northwestern to be guaranteed its fifth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, the Wildcats must win the Big Ten tournament, something they have never done. Beginning with Thursday’s first-round match up with Penn State, Northwestern need to rattle off three consecutive victories.

“I’m definitely always looking for another height in my career,” said Kupe, who lived in Germany until he was seven and is fluent in English, French, German, Luxembourgish and Kikongo. “This week is especially a great time for it to help lead my team to something that we’ve never done before and try to trump the two goals at Notre Dame.

“It’s all about trying to keep our season going. If I can score as many goals as possible these next games and help my seniors to have another week of practice, that would definitely trump those goals at Notre Dame.”

For Northwestern to have a shot at making history, Kupe will likely need to provide at least a few goals. Of the Wildcats’ 29 goals this season, he has provided 10 of them.

Kupe has flourished this season with Northwestern switching to a 4-5-1 formation from last year’s 4-4-2. The change moved senior Matt Eliason, who had 13 goals last season, to the midfield and made him more of a distributor, and Kupe was given the responsibility of scoring.

“Scoring goals has always been in my blood,” Kupe said. “It’s what I’ve been doing. It’s why I’m a forward. It’s why I’m at Northwestern and still playing soccer.”

Kupe has succeeded in his new role. He ranks fourth in the Big Ten behind Michigan’s Soony Saad (15 goals), Indiana’s Will Bruin (15 goals) and Penn State’s Corey Hertzog (14 goals) and 21st in the country.

“Ten goals any other year but this year would be considered a top forward in the Big Ten,” Kupe said. “With these three guys scoring so many goals, it’s kind of unlucky for me.”

Scoring goals is what Kupe loves most, but basketball isn’t far behind. Kupe starred at basketball at Clarkston High School in Michigan and even was invited to be a walk-on on Michigan State’s basketball team.

There was some talk of Kupe playing basketball for Northwestern, but it never materialized.

“I love basketball and watch it every day,” Kupe said. “I miss it time to time. I still think I made the right decision to play soccer in college. I was tempted to play at Michigan State. I always soccer was always something I was better at than basketball.”