Maroons target elusive UAA crown

Chicago is good (again), but can they turn their talent into a conference title?

By Jordan Holliday

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If there’s one date circled on your copy of the women’s soccer schedule, make it Saturday, November 7, the day of the Wash U game (though if you can circle two, the match with Wheaton—who opened this season ranked second nationally—on the first day of classes is a solid choice).

Still, the date with the rival Bears is the one to watch. Wash U is the three-time defending UAA Champion, and the Maroons, who are perennially among the Association’s top squads, are coming up on 10 years without winning the conference. A win over Wash U could sew up a UAA title, one accolade Chicago’s otherwise-accomplished fourth-year class is still missing.

Of course, there’s a lot of soccer to be played before Wash U arrives in Hyde Park, and a UAA title takes a lot more than a single win. But this is an impressively talented Chicago team, one that can certainly put together a UAA-winning season.

That the Maroons are so strong this season is almost surprising, given all the talent they lost last season. Playmakers like Siggy Nachtergaele, Olivia Ndyabagye, Anne Scherer, and Polly Cline, who contributed so much to the Maroon’s Sweet Sixteen run a year ago, are gone; in their stead is a nine-player class of fourth-years, which forms the bulk of the squad that UAA coaches selected as the preseason favorite to win the conference.

“With nine seniors, we have great leadership and the tenacity to meet all our goals this season,” fourth-year defender Kaitlin Meyer said.

Among the fourth-years are forward Brooke Bontz, midfielder Claire Gill, and defender Claire Denz, three of Chicago’s top four in points last year.

The “same old Maroon-style soccer,” as fourth-year midfielder Katie Klamann called it, is heavy on winning 50-50 balls and consistent defense in all phases on the field; rather than producing high-scoring strikers, the team’s approach creates opportunities for a number of players on the pitch.

Drawbacks to not having a go-to goal scorer can arise, as they did in 1–0 loss to a weaker Brandeis team last October. The Maroons overwhelmed the Judges for most of the game, but could never connect on offense and let the contest slip away.

The rapport among the Maroons’ fourth-years and other upperclassmen should help prevent another outing like that Brandeis game, when the team missed on so many close calls. And when Chicago does have to rely upon its defense, they’ll be glad to have second-year Emma Gormley back in goal. Gormley began the 2008 season as a starter before being sidelined with a shoulder injury.

And ultimately, if the Maroons are to pick up the UAA hardware this season, it will be a matter of consistency, of beating the Brandeises on nights when Chicago shots are hitting the crossbar instead of the back of the net. Ultimately, winning the UAA isn’t about beating Wash U. With all the numbers surrounding that looming matchup—three straight titles for the Bears, nine years without one for Chicago—the number that mattered most in recent years has been Wash U’s, and the Maroons seem to have it.

Chicago has beaten Wash U two years in a row, and still the Bears were UAA champs.

Chicago has the players to beat the Bears again this year. And with the talent of the 2009 Maroons, this could finally be the year that winning the Wash U game means winning the UAA as well.