A handful of brilliant goals and unrelenting defense highlighted Chicago's weekend on the road against conference opponents.
The 11th-ranked women's soccer team stayed atop the UAA standings with wins at Case Western and Rochester. The Maroons improved to 5-0-1 in the conference and 13-1-2 overall, thanks to offensive dominance against Case and defensive persistence in the double-overtime nail biter against Rochester.
Third-year forward Renee Neuner earned a hat trick in Friday's 4-0 victory over Case, raising her season total to an impressive 17 goals. Neuner's first goal was off of a long-range shota change from the speedy forward's usual quick finishes near the net.
"We were actually laughing about the distance as we were celebrating the goal," third-year midfielder Jacqui Deleon remarked.
First-year Christine Farmer tallied the Maroons' fourth goal of the match in the 79th minute. Farmer also recorded two assists in the blowout.
Looking to carry their momentum over to tougher games, the Maroons took their five-game win streak into Rochester last Sunday to face the tenacious Yellowjackets squad. Coming off a loss to Washington, Rochester played with intensity, feeling they had nothing to lose. The match went into double overtimethe fifth time this season that Rochester has played two extra periods and the third for the Maroons.
In the fifth minute of the second overtime, DeLeon guided a free kick to third-year midfielder Randi Leppla, who headed it past the Rochester goalkeeper for her first goal of the year.
"The goal in overtime was a total team effort," DeLeon said. "We worked the ball up to [first-year Christine] Farmer on the left side. She was battling against one of their defenders in the corner and drew a foul. I just served it into the mixer and Randi put it away. It was an awesome finishright in the corner. We all dog-piled Randi right in the eighteen."
Besides Leppla's game-winning effort, another member of Chicago's defense stepped it up to capture the victory. Third-year goalie Andrea Przybysz had five saves in her eighth shutout of the season. Przybysz must blank one more opponent to tie the school record for career shutouts (24). Her 0.54 career goals against average has already placed her in the record books.
Rochester outshot Chicago 10-5, but their shot selection did not put the Chicago defense in jeopardy.
"Though they outshot us, I really think our offensive opportunities were much more dangerous," DeLeon said. Their shots were, for the most part, taken from very far away and were not on frame."
Chicago will face 13th-ranked DePauw (9-3-2) this Thursday at home. A balanced offensive powerhouse, DePauw has outshot opponents this year 19 to 7 and is averaging 2.56 goals per game. Although no Tigers player has scored more than seven goals, 13 different players have scored goals this season.
"[The match versus DePauw] will give us another opportunity before Saturday to get a run in and work out some kinks," DeLeon said.
Smoothing out the kinks will be integral to overcoming Chicago's most pivotal challenge of the season. Saturday's match at Wash U (15-2-0, 5-1-0) will be a near-identical rematch of last year's regular season finale.
With a win over the Bears, the Maroons would be outright UAA champs and receive an automatic bid to the playoffs. However, a loss to Wash U would vault the Bears into the top spot and give Emory a chance to win the conference with a win over Carnegie. A tie would keep Chicago on top if Emory lost or tied on Sunday.
In last year's game, Chicago was undefeated and leading the conference before losing 2-1 in double overtime against Wash U. The Maroons were still able to pick up an at-large bid and battle their way to the national championship game.
Having fought successfully through some tough games this year, women's soccer is happy to have momentum on its side.
"We didn't play our best this weekend, but we really gutted it out to get the two wins on the road," Leppla said.