Sometimes it takes a serious challenge to determine the true character of a team. University of Chicago Women's Soccer, virtually uncontested all year, found that test Saturday at Wheaton College. The Maroons (15-1-4) battled the Wheaton Thunder (16-2-4) to a 0-0 draw throughout 90 minutes of regulation and two ten-minute overtime periods before prevailing 5-4 in a penalty kick shootout.
Each team scored on its first four penalty kicks before second-year Chicago keeper Andrea Przybysz stopped the final Wheaton kick by diving to her left and stopping the chest-high shot. Chicago finished the shootout when second-year midfielder Melissa Arndt placed the final shot high and left, out of the Wheaton keeper's reach.
"I had almost made the two saves before that, and before the shot I just had the whole season swirling around in my head," Przybysz said after. "I just figured she was going right the whole way." Chicago second-years Renee Neuner, Monica Michelotti, Jackie DeLeon, and Diana Connett had scored on the previous four kicks.
It was the first time all season that the Maroons were held scoreless in a match, partly because of the wet and slippery conditions. Chicago out-shot Wheaton 18-7 overall, and 3-0 in overtime. The team's best opportunity in overtime came when first-year Bridget Hogan missed the net wide from outside the six with just over two minutes remaining in the second overtime period.
Wheaton successfully limited the touches of second-year UAA Player of the Year Renee Neuner, and frustrated the Chicago offense all day. In the end, Chicago relied on its defense, as it had all season in close matches. The defense only allowed three shots after the first half, and repeatedly shut down Wheaton attempts.
Throughout much of the second half and overtime, Chicago threatened to score, but the Wheaton defense, although bending at times, refused to break.
Midfielder Jackie DeLeon almost knotted the match's first goal in the second half by bending the ball into the upper right corner of the net, but it was headed away by a Wheaton defender at the last minute.
The match remained scoreless until the final shootout. "I was pretty nervous because everyone had made before me," Arndt said. "I actually had a dream the night before that the game went into penalty kicks. We had practiced P.K.s all week, so when I got up there I didn't change anything; I just went with the shot I had been working on all week."
The game was repeatedly stopped by injuries, particularly one collision between Connett and a Wheaton midfielder. The collision, occurring with just over six minutes left in the second overtime, stopped the game for almost ten minutes and resulted in both players' leaving the field. Connett returned several minutes later, with a bandage over her head.
With the win, the team advanced to the National Quarterfinals for the second time ever, and the first time since 1996. Chicago garnered support from a large and raucous fan base, consisting both of students and parents, which has grown with the news of each victory.
Chicago had advanced the day before by beating Webster College 3-0 on goals by DeLeon, Connett, and midfielder Erin Capener. The Maroons controlled the tempo of the entire game, never offering hope to an under-matched Webster.
Saturday, November 22, Chicago turns to third-ranked University of Puget Sound (18-1-1), in a game to be played in Tacoma, Washington. The Maroons leave campus early Thursday morning for the Saturday afternoon game. The team has high expectations for the National Quarterfinal, especially coming off the dramatic win against Wheaton.
"We are definitely confident," said second-year defender Ellen Fitzgerald. "After last weekend, which was definitely the hardest game of the season, everyone is ready to take on Puget Sound."
After a tough loss which ended the regular season, Chicago seems to be heating up at just the right time; it is just three wins away from the team's first-ever national championship.