With the preseason non-conference games concluded and the team unbeaten, the Maroon women's soccer team moved into the meat of its schedule this past weekend. With two games, one against Emory University on Saturday and another against Wheaton College on Tuesday, the team not only preserved its unbeaten and untied record, but moved up in the NCAA Division III rankings by one spot to number three.
The game against Emory on Saturday was particularly hard-fought, featuring a myriad of scoring opportunities, stifling defense, and eventually overtime. First-year Misa Bretschneider emerged as the team's heroine, scoring the winning goal to give the Maroons a 1-0 victory. As thrilling as the goal was, however, the real story behind both the Emory and Wheaton games was the team's defense.
Despite the attacking style of play that head coach Amy Reifert employs, the team's defensive numbers continue to astound. Emory, ranked tenth in the nation when it played Chicago on Saturday, was held to just four shots on goal. In recognition of her superb play, the University Athletic Association named second-year defender Ellen Fitzgerald the women's soccer Athlete of the Week. Fitzgerald and the team's other defenders have held Chicago's opponents to a paltry 51 shots on goal over the course of the season, compared to the Maroons' 180.
Bretschneider's goal in overtime gave Chicago its closest win of the year, and it was by no means an easy one. She characterized the game as a series of plays where the Maroons "didn't take advantage of opportunities" to put the ball in the goal. Though the game plan was working, players were simply not finishing. By overtime the team was "pretty much just desperate to get the ball" into the net, added Bretschneider. Although she was the one who came up with the goal, two other players attacked the ball when it was sent into the middle of the field near the Emory net. It was Bretschneider, however, who managed to score, giving Chicago the victory.
Tuesday's game against Wheaton was no less action-packed, with Chicago winning on the strength of two goals from Fitzgerald. The win brought Chicago's record to a still-perfect mark of 9-0-0 and helped the team move up in its ranking. Over the course of the season, the Maroons have played and beaten four ranked opponents. Wheaton (ranked seventh just before the game) was one of those, and the win against Emory combined with the solid play against Wheaton brought Chicago to third in the nation.
The schedule does not let up for the Maroons, whose critical conference matches still loom on the horizon. The team goes on the road this Saturday for three tough UAA games against Carnegie Mellon University, Brandeis University, and New York University. The team will also play a non-conference away game against inter-state rival Illinois Wesleyan University before returning home for the last stretch run before the playoffs. The four games that Chicago has on its schedule against archrival Macalester College, and UAA members Case Western Reserve University, the University of Rochester, and Washington University in St. Louis will play the critical role in deciding whether Chicago will win the UAA and earn a spot in the NCAA tournament. While there are at-large bids available, they are very difficult to get, and even one or two losses may cost a team a spot in the post-season.
There are still many more important games for the Maroons. While the Emory game may have been "the most important win of the season," according to Bretschneider, the Maroons still have their work cut out for them. With the defense playing superbly, and the timely goal-scoring that has come to characterize the team, the Maroons look primed and ready for a successful run to the playoffs.