Bringing to an end a five-year stretch of futility against the visitors from Pittsburgh, the eighth-ranked Maroons (7–1–1, 1–0–0 UAA) downed Carnegie Mellon (4–4–1, 0–1–0) 1–0 Saturday morning at Stagg. An early goal from second-year midfielder Siggy Nachtergaele and some strong defensive play from fourth-year Sally Hall helped Chicago overcome the Tartans and injuries to both teams in the UAA opener.
Coming off of a brutal 4–1 loss to old foes Wheaton, Chicago was facing the prospect of playing its entire UAA slate without two key defenders going into Saturday's game. On offense, first-year Brooke Bontz got the starting nod in the absence of third-year striker Christine Farmer. Any doubts over the team’s resiliency were put to rest by the revamped Maroons' defense however. With Hall and second-year keeper Polly Cline leading the way, the Maroons were able to shut down the Tartan attack despite being pressured early by long balls over the top.
In the eighth minute, Chicago turned the tables on the Tartans when a long throw-in by third-year fullback Amanda Catalano was scuffed by Carnegie second-year Sarah DeWath. The ball wound up at the feet of Nachtergaele, who took one touch before blasting the ball inside the near post for a 1–0 lead.
As Carnegie sought to even out the score, Cline was called upon to anticipate a few saves, acting almost as a sweeper-keeper behind Chicago's high defensive line. Making no changes from the Wheaton match, head coach Amy Reifert placed her trust in Hall's experience and intelligence in reading the opposition.
Another tactical change by Reifert would be tested throughout both halves, with Catalano switching to the right-back position, allowing first-year midfielder Katie Klamann to stretch her legs in the defense. With both players submitting solid efforts, the Maroons defense did not skip a beat.
The new-look defense was one of the most anticipated topics of discussion going into the match, but Hall made a crucial shift from the fullback position to central defense, marshaling the injury-ridden backline in a commanding performance.
Behind Cline's command of the box and the well-organized defense, Carnegie hardly got a sniff at goal in the first half. The Maroons meanwhile nearly doubled their tally on a quick counterattack. After a shot by second-year left winger Olivia Ndyabagye was deflected for a throw-in, Bontz bypassed three defenders and sent in a grounded cross that found fourth-year forward Jordan Pouliot unmarked inside the box. Pouliot had time to line up her shot, but ended up sliding the ball weakly into the goalkeeper's arms.
In the second half, Reifert replaced Cline with third-year Amanda Sutter, who had lost her starting job after suffering a wrist injury in the preseason. Sutter’s only prior action this fall came against Wheaton, but she looked sharp from the beginning of her stint Saturday, taking down a vicious Carnegie cross from the left wing before another red shirt could get to it. Although the Tartans threatened several times, Chicago still held the edge, with midfielders Ndyabagye, fourth-year Bridget Hogan, and first-year Claire Gill all testing second-year keeper Christie Adams at various points with headers. The Maroons also forced seven corner kicks, compared to just two for Carnegie.
The final minutes of the match would prove a different story, though, as complacency set in and Chicago allowed the Tartans to launch a flurry of attacks. Sutter played an integral role in the last stretch, again intercepting a dangerous cross before it could reach an open Tartan. Although late defensive mistakes nearly wasted an otherwise strong effort, the back line’s veterans provided the team the steadiness it needed.
“We made some errors that fortunately Carnegie didn’t take advantage of, but part of that was because Sally cleaned it up so well, in addition to [second-year defender] Anne Scherer, who continues to be no-nonsense-—she just doesn't make mistakes,” Reifert said.
The Maroons could also benefit from more acute and consistent finishing. While they had their share of quality chances, they were unable to push across any goals after Nachtergaele’s strike.
“I hope that changes and that we become a little more systematic, and a little bit more like a machine, like we have been in years past,” Reifert said. “The great news is that this group just finds a way to win.”
With Farmer out for an indefinite amount of time, the Maroons will have to draw out the kind of goal-scoring prowess that Farmer brought to the table from the likes of Pouliot and Bontz, while first-year forwards Melissa Plesac and Julie Bischoff wait on the wings.
The Maroons can take heart from their performance against Carnegie Mellon, though, having snapped a five-year losing streak against the Tartans, and also setting up a firm foundation for achieving their UAA title hopes. They host non-conference opponents Lake Forest this afternoon at 4 p.m.