In a year that has seen lots of new faces on the field rise to the challenge of remaking the starting lineup, women’s soccer has saved its best for last. Traveling to St. Louis to close out the regular season against archrival Wash U, the Maroons will need to hold back one of the strongest offenses they have faced all year as they make another push to the NCAAs.
A lot has changed since the squad edged the Bears 2–1 at Stagg in 2005. Last year, the Maroons (12–4–1, 4–2–0 UAA) locked up its at-large bid to nationals after taming the Bears (15–2–0, 6–0–0), and this fall the squad faces a similar postseason crunch. Pulling through with the much-needed victory Saturday will take near perfect soccer from Chicago as Wash U seeks revenge and continues to make up for its missteps of yesteryear.
“It’s all about the tournament,” head coach Amy Reifert said. “We stumbled at Emory, the Wheaton loss was legit, Rochester would have been an even game if we hadn’t given up two goals, and Calvin was just a missed opportunity. We’re seeing Wash U as our way of getting in the tournament.”
It looked like Wash U might continue on its slide this fall when it dropped the season opener 1–0 to DePauw (10–4–0, 5–2–0 SCAC). But after the disappointing start, the squad found its form and has since been unstoppable en route to a firm grasp on the conference title and a Pool A bid to the postseason. The Bears haven’t lost a match since September 10 when they dropped a 1–0 overtime decision to Illinois Wesleyan (10–5–4, 4–1–2 CCIW) and hold the upper hand in the postseason race as they prepare to host a South Siders team that has stumbled on the road to a 3–4–1 record.
Much of the Bears’ dominance in 2006 has stemmed from a fierce offense that has notched a 2.94 goal average, totaling a staggering 51 scores on the season. Meghan Fowler-Finn has led charge with 10 goals, including four game-winners. Joining her up front is first-year Carynn Rosoff who has matched her 10 goals and spot-on accuracy with a .600 shooting percentage. Trying to repel these two from the final third will be the Maroons’ toughest challenge of the day and will mark the biggest test of the year for a completely made-over Chicago back five.
Lifted last season by an impenetrable defense anchored by All-American Diana Connett (A.B. ’06) and keeper, Andrea Przybysz (A.B. ’06), the Maroons surrendered just 13 goals over 23 games with five fourth-years putting up the brick wall. Their replacements, fourth-years Bridget Hogan and Sally Hall, second-years Anne Scherer and Maggie Costich, and third-years Amanda Catalano and keeper Amanda Sutter, have proven to be worthy successors on the pitch. The new back line has given up 13 goals in 17 contests and nailed down nine shutouts as opponents have broken through for a minimal .102 shooting percentage.
“This year, when we struggled a little bit, we hadn’t done enough to push ourselves over the top, but in the last three weeks, that’s been our focus—to dot every I and cross every T. That’s been the difference,” Reifert said. “In my mind, for us to be successful, it’s about the mentality more so than the personnel.”
Even if the South Siders can sustain the onslaught from Wash U’s strikers, their own offense faces huge hurdles in putting points on the board. Getting past the Bears has been near impossible in 2006 as the squad has limited the competition to seven goals with third-year netminder Carrie Sear earning a .905 saving percentage.
“The offense is about how many chances you get in the final third, so it really has to do with the team as a whole, and I definitely think that we are moving in the right direction,” Reifert said. “Like I told [third-year forward] Christine [Farmer], they can shut you down for 89 minutes and 30 seconds, but all you need is 30 seconds to win the game for us.”
With the tight Bears defense pushing back the Maroons, the squad will need to capitalize on any chances they are given to earn the win Saturday. As the race for a coveted Pool C (at-large) playoff bid has tightened in the final weeks, a loss or even a tie would likely eliminate Chicago from having the chance to play for a return trip to the Final Four.