After a stellar 6-0 start that vaulted the women's soccer team to the nation's top ranking, the now 15th-ranked Maroons were hit with serious challenges both from talented opponents and injuries to key players.
Chicago began the season with four solid wins against Lawrence (5-0), Lake Forest (2-0), North Park (5-0), and UW-Stevens Point (4-1), allowing only five shots on net over that span. Nail-biting games followed that dominance, as overtime victories on September 17 and 18 kept the Maroons in first for the third-straight week. Second-year Maya Pratt scored the game winner in the 2-1 win over Macalester, assisted by first-year Eva DeLaurentiis who earned the first tally. First-year Christine Farmer followed the next day with an unassisted goal against St. Benedict College, her fifth of the season.
Yet the relatively breezy six-game winning streak came to an end at the hands of 15th-ranked Wheaton. After allowing only 30 shots during the win streak, the Thunder managed 23 against a battered defense missing three of four starters. The normally explosive Chicago offense could only muster four in response, failing to find the back of the net despite third-year goalkeeper Andrea Przybys's 14 saves. Third-year midfielder Hannah Tan scored the only goal of the match off a corner kick in the 32nd minute.
The non-conference loss wasn't the roughest part of the evening for the Maroon squad. Injuries led to five playersall third-yearshaving to leave the game: midfielders Monica Michelotti (hip) and Jacqui DeLeon (broken arm) in addition to defenders Ellen Fitzgerald (torn ACL), Elise Aiken (concussion), and Diana Connett (ankle). The team learned last Saturday that Fitzgerald's injury was season ending.
Unaware of the injury's severity at the time, a reconfigured Chicago team faced the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse September 25. The Maroons returned to form the first half, outshooting their unranked opponents, 12-3. Not one attempt found the back of the net, however, keeping UW-Lacrosse in the game. Half-time adjustments helped the visitors at least play competitively, and second-year Mandy Rue took advantage of a miscommunication between the Chicago goalkeeper and defender to score the game's first goal.
The Maroons followed with a number of chances with each one becoming more and more pressing. Finally, in the 86th minute, third-year forward Renee Neuner scored her eighth goal of the year assisted by Farmer, resulting in a 1-1 deadlock after regulation. With players not used to playing a full gamelet alone an additional 20 overtime minutesthe two overtimes passed with little action, leaving Chicago relieved but disappointed.
With the seven-game UAA conference schedule beginning this weekend, this year's squad will have to expect similarly determined competition. As one fan noted from the stands, "Everybody's going to play [Chicago] tough. They're going to play like it's their championship game." Few teams are more talented than the Maroonseven without a full squadand the 2004 team understands the expectations that come after finishing last year's national runner up.
Expect Chicago to continue to excel with a multi-faceted offensive threat, which features Neuner and Farmer, and a recovering defense that will have to adapt under the leadership of Przybysz. Chicago's primary concern remains in the preparation of less-experienced players to step up and fill crucial positions.
After a needed week of rest, the Maroons' travel to Emory (4-4-0) Saturday.