October 17, 2006

Change in the air as women's soccer splits

In five years, women’s soccer hadn’t experienced anything like it. But after suffering their first losing streak in half a decade, the Maroons shook things up in a big way to awake from their UAA slumber.

On the road for the second straight week, 22nd-ranked Chicago (9–3–1, 2–2 UAA) fell 2–1 to seventh-ranked Rochester (9–1–2, 2–1–1) Friday before rebounding to take down Case (4–9–1, 1–2–1) 2–0 Sunday. Despite getting third-year striker Christine Farmer (10 goals, 3 assists) back on the pitch, the Maroons weren’t able to accomplish much against the Yellowjackets, but some tactical adjustments from head coach Amy Reifert helped the squad rediscover their offensive spark in Sunday’s matinee.

The return of their leading scorer couldn’t have been better timed as the Maroons looked to get on the board early against a Rochester defense that had surrendered just one goal all season. But due to some lapses on defense, Chicago fell behind early and could not catch up.

Less than a minute into the opening period, the Yellowjackets got on the board and didn’t have to wait long for their next goal. A chip from fourth-year Stephanie Klenotich met fourth-year Mary Walsh inside the box, and the veteran wasted no time putting the ball past third-year Amanda Sutter for the winner. All before the game was five minutes old.

Although the Maroons still struggled to create decent scoring opportunities, they managed to cut the lead in half before intermission. But with a their battle-tested defense more than up to the task, the Yellowjackets showed no signs of letting the game slip away.

The loss to Rochester was the first time the Maroons had dropped consecutive games since the 2001 season, when Chicago slogged to a 6–11–0 finish.

Limited to just three shots on goal Friday, and on the heels of a 1–0 loss at Emory last weekend, Reifert scrapped the squad’s flat midfield in favor of a non-flat structure. Sunday’s switch slotted second-year Olivia Ndyabagye and third-year Eva DeLaurentiis on the left and right, while second-year playmaker Siggy Nachtergaele got the nod in the middle. First-year Claire Gill replaced fourth-year Bridget Hogan at defensive center mid in an attempt to restore a physical presence to the midfield. The moves reflected a newfound willingness from the coach to replace veterans with more inexperienced underclassmen.

Looking to breathe new life into a slumping team, Reifert implemented the tactical changes 40 minutes before the opening whistle Sunday. If the thrashing of the Spartans was any indication, the move was a success.

“I think the team responded very well,” Nachtergaele said. “Not only were people excited about trying it, giving the game some extra energy to begin with, but the new roles people had to play to coincided very well with their strengths.”

Breaking out of their offensive doldrums early, Chicago recorded goals from DeLaurentiis and Gill in the first half to go up 2–0.

That was all the visitors would need. The back four, who remained unaltered amidst the shakeup, shut down the Spartans, allowing no shots on goal during the contest.

Things won’t get any easier for the Maroons. Chicago hits the road Thursday to take on fifth-ranked Calvin (13–0–0, 5–0–0).