Anyone who has followed Chicago women's soccer the past few years knows that today's sectional tournament match against Wheaton comes with a healthy dose of hype. The stage is set for a titanic struggle between two of the best Division III women's soccer programs in the nation. In their last six meetings, the teams have had an even three victories each, with no match decided by more than a two-goal margin.
The 11th-ranked Maroons (15-2-2) and 3rd-ranked Thunder (21-1-0) last clashed September 23 at Wheaton. In the relentless 1-0 battle, Chicago endured defeat and a number of injuries to key players. Now that the team has grown accustomed to playing with different personnel and some of the injured players have returned, including third-year midfielders Monica Michelotti and Jacqui DeLeon, the squad should look far stronger than it did in September.
"[Wheaton] will see a different team than they did earlier in the season," assistant coach Bannon Stroud said.
But even with a strong and experienced corps of players, the Maroons must do a few fundamental things in order to defeat the strong, tough Thunder.
"We have to play sharp defensively," Stroud said. "We have to win 50-50 balls and set the pace. Last time Wheaton did a good job of pressuring the ball."
The players know that bringing their A-game is mostly mental, and they refuse to be intimidated by playing on Wheaton's turf field or the do-or-die pressure of the single-elimination tournament.
"The key to beating them will be taking the aggression and frustration we felt after our regular season loss to them and turning that into our weapon," said third-year goalkeeper Andrea Przybysz, one of two goalkeepers to give up less than two goals to Wheaton all season.
A Maroons win over the hosts would mean playing in Saturday's sectional championship at Wheaton against the winner of Christopher Newport University (15-3-3) and 17th-ranked Lynchburg (21-1-1). The sectional winner advances to the Final Four in Greensboro, NC, the following weekend.
Chicago is certainly not counting its chickens, and knows it will have to leave everything on the field in order to stay alive.
"I think it will be a very close and competitive game, and both teams will be playing their hearts out," said first-year forward Christine Farmer, the team's second-most-prolific scorer with seven goals and six assists. "We obviously come into it with a chip on our shoulders because they beat us earlier in the season, so we're going to be trying that much harder to avenge the loss."
"Personally, I couldn't be more excited about playing Wheaton at home," Przybysz said. "We want revenge."