After suffering its first conference loss of the season last weekend at the hands of rival NYU by a score of 1-0, the Chicago women's soccer team was faced with the ever-difficult task of coming back strong.
The NYU match was the kind of game that fans, players, and coaches alike hate most. It was a game that saw the 12th-ranked Maroons thoroughly outplay their 17th-ranked opponents for nearly the entire 90 minutes of play. Unfortunately, one small lapse, a few unlucky bounces, and a string of missed scoring chances allowed NYU to sneak away with victory, and sole possession of first place in the University Athletic Association (UAA) standings (3-0-1). Chicago is now 2-1-1 in conference play, which puts them in third place. With three conference games remaining, the Maroons are certainly within striking distance, though they no longer control their own destiny in terms of winning the conference.
According to the team's assistant coach, Bannon Stroud, Chicago was not guilty of any critical mistakes during the game. "We had chances to score, but they [NYU] were well organized defensively. We also had trouble finishing on scoring chances." Stroud also pointed out a valuable lesson that all the best teams must learn. "NYU showed us that you don't need to control a game for the entire 90 minutes to come away with a win." Stroup added that he wants the team to make sure it is well disciplined throughout the game so that the opposition will have nothing to exploit and no opportunities to steal a victory.
Despite the conference loss, Chicago's postseason hopes are very much alive. While 35 of the 45 teams invited to the Division III tournament are conference winners, a number of berths are also awarded to teams the selection committee recognizes as particularly strong. If the Maroons win their remaining games, they will have made a sound case for themselves, especially considering the strength of their schedule. Chicago has already notched wins against 18th ranked Emory, 16th ranked Wheaton College (Ill.), and 10th ranked DePauw. The only other Maroon loss came against 3rd ranked University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point.
This past Tuesday, Chicago (9-2-1) took its first step on the road to recovery by pulling off a 2-1 double overtime victory against the Titans of Illinois Wesleyan University (9-3-1) in front of a small but dedicated contingent of fans at Stagg Field. First-year forward Renee Neuner's team-leading 13th goal of the season proved especially important. Her shot from point-blank range in the 103rd minute sent fans back home smiling. The goal came after Chicago was awarded a free kick in the offensive zone. Freshman midfielder Monica Michelotti launched the ball further upfield, but a waiting defender intercepted it. Her subsequent pass was cut off by Neuner, who immediately beat the IWU goalkeeper.
Neuner, potentially the most explosive forward in Chicago history, is already just one goal shy of the single season record set by Jessica Berry (1999) with six regular season games remaining. The win also keeps Chicago undefeated at home with a record of 7-0-0.
The Maroons found themselves behind early on in Tuesday's contest, when Titans freshman Kate Kelly cashed in on a Chicago miscue after only six and a half minutes of play. Far from disheartened, the Maroons got the equalizer less than a minute later. Michelotti, also the engineer of the game-winning goal, played an excellent ball into the corner for Neuner. Neuner then centered the ball to senior and co-captain Cherish Orozco, who one-touched the tying shot into an open part of the net for her sixth tally of the season. Orozco is now in sole possession of third place in all time scoring with twenty-eight collegiate goals.
Stroud was proud of the way his team recovered, especially against a Titans squad he viewed as one of the more underrated clubs in the region. He attributes Chicago's overall success thus far to the combination of talented freshmen and the strong leadership of veteran seniors, especially co-captains Orozco and midfielder Julie Ward. "Our captains have really set a good example," said Stroud. "Cherish and Julie are the ones who set the tempo and dictate the work ethic. They really command a lot of respect. Our overall team chemistry is very good."
This weekend the Maroons will journey north to Minnesota, where they will face two more tough opponents. On Saturday Chicago will play Saint Benedict, and on Sunday the team will square off against the talented Macalester, perennially one of the better teams in the region. The following week, it's back to conference play again as the Maroons host the Waltham, Massachusetts-based Brandeis University.