For women’s soccer, there is no room left for mistakes or missteps. If the team is going to make it to the postseason, every game now is a must-win situation.
With just over a week left in the regular season, Chicago (9–5–1, 2–2 UAA) has three games left on its schedule, the first of which kicks off today at Case Western (8–8, 0–4 UAA). After playing the Spartans, the Maroons will travel to New York for Sunday’s date with sixteenth-ranked Rochester (10–3–2, 2–2 UAA). Chicago’s season wraps next Saturday at eighth-ranked Wash U (12–2–1, 4–0 UAA), the defending conference champions.
To make the NCAA tournament, the Maroons will need to either win the UAA title or secure one of the at-large bids. The conference championship and the automatic bid that comes with it are awarded based on record in UAA play, and mathematically, they are still within Chicago’s reach. But for such a scenario to play out, the Maroons have to win out, and Emory (12–3–1, 3–1 UAA) and Wash U, the two teams ahead of Chicago in the conference, have to suffer monumental, late-season collapses.
A more likely path to the NCAA involves the Maroons getting an at-large bid, which are given out on a more subjective basis. For these bids, all the teams with a shot at making the tournament are ranked within their respective regions—New England, the Great Lakes, the Middle Atlantic, and so on. The top-ranked teams from each region are then chosen until the field is filled.
In the most recent poll, which was released October 28, Chicago is ranked ninth in the Central, the largest region and one of the most talented. Wash U, the only other UAA team in that poll, is ranked first.
To make the postseason, the Maroons probably need to move up at least a spot or two in the Central, which they would almost certainly do if they won out. It’s difficult to predict what would happen if Chicago won at Case and Rochester this weekend but then tied or lost to an excellent Wash U squad next Saturday.
In the meantime, all the Maroons can do is handle their business with the Spartans and Yellow Jackets. Case racked up results in the early part of their season, but their team has only won three times since mid-September and is still winless against UAA competition. Chicago has not dropped a match to Case in the last decade.
With that history in mind and tougher opponents on the horizon, today’s game at Case could be a prime time for a flat performance, something the Maroons will have to guard against.
“I think as a team we need to realize that a loss [at Case] would be a huge letdown,” first-year defender Molly Tobin said, “but I think we can use that to motivate us to play even better.”
If Chicago can get past Case, Rochester figures to provide a greater challenge to the Maroons’ postseason plans. The Yellow Jackets lead all UAA teams in goals per game, which could spell trouble for the South Siders, whose offensive production has been inconsistent this year. If Chicago can dictate possession, it will go a long way toward minimizing the Rochester attack.
“Our approach to beating [Rochester] is no different from the rest of the games we’ve been in,” fourth-year defender Anne Scherer said. “We must win the 50–50 balls and control the ball. If we are able to maintain possession and attack the end lines, it will give us great opportunities. We also need to stay organized and alert on defense. But it all comes back to the 50–50 battle and who wins it will most likely win the game.”
With some of the UAA’s best still ahead of them, an NCAA spot may be a long shot for the Maroons, but they’ve done it before. Faced with nearly the same predicament last year, Chicago won all three of its final games—including a 2–1 victory over then-10th-ranked Wash U—and ended up hosting the first two rounds of the postseason.
“We really haven’t directly talked about the similar situation we were in last year, but I think it’s definitely still fresh in all of the returners’ minds,” Scherer said. “We have been in this same position before and managed to get the results we needed. It makes us confident that this isn’t an impossible task before us. We can do this if we believe and execute.”