With the end of the regular season approaching in a hurry and a postseason bid hanging in the balance, it’s crunch time for women’s soccer. After a crushing loss on the road to the top team in the region, time is running out for the Maroons.
Following their 1–0 loss on the road to third-ranked Calvin Thursday, the squad’s hopes of capturing one of the 15 at-large bids for the NCAAs was dealt a severe blow. Chicago (9–4–1, 2–2 UAA), losers of three of their last four games and recently dropped from the D3kick.com Top 25, sorely needed the points of a road win yesterday to remain in contention for one of the coveted spots. Standing in the way was an impressive Knights squad (15–0–0) that set the Maroons back a step in their bid for a repeat trip to the final four.
The South Siders knew going in that taking down the Knights would be no easy task. In preparation for the match, they worked on how to limit Calvin’s touches on the ball and disarm the attacking trio of fourth-year forwards Sarah Weesies and Jill Capel and second-year center midfielder Elizabeth Ribbens. Combining for 30 of the squad’s 50 goals this year, all three fire at the net with dead-on accuracy, but Capel stands a slight cut above the rest with a team leading .667 shots-on-goal percentage.
“I think they’re talented all over the field, but I think that those are their big three,” head coach Amy Reifert said of undefeated Calvin.
Although the Maroons managed to knock these Knights the charge, limiting them to one shot each on the day, first-year forward Natalie Verurink found a way late in the first half to get the job done for Calvin. A free kick from the center of the circle pulled the defense out of position as Chicago was able to clear the ball only partially. First-year Emily Offenhoff quickly recovered it after a scoff in front of the Maroons’ goal and chipped the ball to an open Verurink, who was able to hook around the back five. Picking up the pass, the rookie slotted it into the unguarded net and put Calvin ahead 1–0 after 37 minutes of deadlock.
“We kind of half-cleared the ball up, but then they got possession and were able to pop it back through the defense,” said second-year midfielder Siggy Nachtergaele on the tiebreaker.
That one goal proved to be all the home team needed to lock up its staggering 15th straight win of the season. With second-year goalkeeper Polly Cline replacing the starter, third-year Amanda Sutter in the box after the break, the new netminder shut the door on the Knights’ offense with three saves.
Taking advantage of the empty space at midfield left by Calvin’s decision to play a deep sweeper, Chicago created plenty of opportunities to come up with the equalizer, tallying 10 shots on the game. The squad unveiled the same new look at midfield that helped the Maroons vault past Case (5–9–1, 1–2–1) 2–0 Sunday.
“We’ve been struggling to be that snappy all year. We felt like we had to shake it up, and this is one of the things that we looked at,” Reifert said about the recent switches. “We hatched this idea of a different look to get the kids who have been the most effective on the field at the same time.”
Unfortunately for the Maroons, the formation failed to come up with the big play that the squad needed, despite allowing the South Siders to keep possession for much of the game. Nachtergaele and fellow midfielders third-year Eva DeLaurentiis and first-year Claire Gill, all critical to Reifert’s latest plan, had two shots apiece but couldn’t break through and forced the Knights to make just three saves the entire game. As their shots continued to misfire, Reifert pulled the new formation in favor of the old flat-back.
“It definitely gave us some good opportunities. Our problem was getting that last touch on the ball,” Nachtergaele said. “It’s still a work in progress, but I definitely see some good things coming out of our new strategy.”
Hoping to rebound from their clash with Calvin, the Maroons will make a few tactical adjustments at Friday’s practice to gear up for Concordia’s (10–2–2) flat-back on defense Saturday as they try to get the squad back on track for its fifth-straight postseason appearance.
“We’ve got a huge run in front of us,” Reifert said. “For Concordia, we both need to win this game from a regional perspective in terms of putting ourselves ahead of the other when it comes to getting the at-large bid.”