When the NCAA website released its list of championship selections late Sunday night, there was a sense of disappointment that women’s soccer was not slated for a tournament spot. Despite the premature end to the season, though, the Maroons have plenty to hold their heads high about.
Needing a win to improve their chances at making the postseason, the Maroons (12–5–1, 4–3–0 UAA) fell 1–0 to archrival and 13th-ranked Wash U (16–2–0, 7–0–0) Saturday in St. Louis. The loss brought to an end an up-and-down season for last year’s national semifinalists, who started the season 8–1–1 before a string of injuries and tactical changes forced the squad to adapt on the fly.
Having already clinched the UAA title and accompanying automatic bid, the Bears had little incentive but a lot of rivalry to play for. Although the Maroons were pinned back for the first few minutes, a spectacular 30-yard shot from third-year defender Amanda Catalano gave the hosts an early scare. Wash U third-year goalkeeper Carrie Sear managed to tip the ball off the crossbar before third-year forward Christine Farmer narrowly missed capitalizing on the rebound.
Showing exactly why they were unbeaten in the conference, the Bears responded quickly and put themselves ahead 21 minutes into the game. Exploiting the full width of Francis Field, fourth-year midfielder Meghan Marie Fowler-Finn switched the ball out to third-year winger Marin McCarthy, who took it to the touchline before floating across into the box for fourth-year midfielder Sara Schroeder. Schroeder nodded the header home past third-year Amanda Sutter for the 1–0 lead.
The Maroons’ lack of urgency cost them momentum and spirit in the first half, but they returned from intermission with a fighting spirit. The best chance of the game fell to Farmer, who beat the Wash U offside trap to get on the end of a long pass from second-year defender Anne Scherer. The team’s leading scorer on the year with 14 goals, Farmer uncharacteristically blasted her shot a few feet over the goal with only Sear to beat.
With the Bears stepping up their defensive effort, Chicago was limited to half-chances the rest of the way. Farmer, third-year midfielder Eva DeLaurentiis, and second-year winger Olivia Ndyabagye all sniffed out the Bears goal, but Sear was up to the task on every Maroon challenge.
With nine minutes left on the clock, Reifert threw caution to the wind, replacing second-year fullback Maggie Costich with fourth-year forward Jordan Pouliot and shifted the squad into a risky 3–4–3 formation. The move nearly paid off when Farmer found first-year forward Brooke Bontz with a neat pass, but Bontz saw her shot deflected onto the top of the net. Wash U eventually gained possession and kept it, closing out the final minutes of the game, effectively ending the Maroons’ postseason hopes.
“In the end, knowing that we had to rebuild the team should make it easier to get over not making the tournament, but knowing that we had a very talented, cohesive group, and knowing that we had control over our own fate but didn’t take care of business, makes it a lot harder,” Nachtergaele said.
The loss caps off a chaotic season in which Reifert broke in an almost entirely new starting lineup from 2005.
Overcoming significant losses from graduation, newcomers saw significant minutes and last year’s non-starters stepped up to shoulder more responsibility. After injuries to crucial defensive players first-year central defender Kaitlin Meyer and third-year Meryl Prochaska tarnished a strong start and forced Reifert to make tactical changes on both ends of the field, the squad adapted to the new changes despite the mental and tactical struggles they caused.
“We started off a lot better than expected with a more talented group than we probably thought we would have, so that when we hit a rough patch we didn’t have the team experience to get over it quickly,” Nachtergaele said.
The 4–1 defeat at then 20th-ranked Wheaton September 26, compounded by a knee injury to Farmer that sidelined her for five games, marked an early low. What followed was a rough patch in which the Maroons dropped three of five games before finally ending their funk with a 2–0 win at Case October 15.
The midseason swoon seemed a distant memory last weekend, when the Maroons closed out another undefeated home season with a pair of crushing wins. Five to one and 2-–0 wins against NYU and Brandeis were proof of what the young team was capable of, but the Maroons weren’t always able to sustain that style of free-flowing soccer, especially away from home.
Still, the fluctuations of the season are representative of a larger learning curve, and with much of the team set to return next fall, the Maroons will not stay out of the postseason for long. Although the loss of the five graduating seniors—defender Sally Hall, midfielders Maya Pratt, Bridget Hogan, and Marianna Kerppola, and forward Jordan Pouliot—will hurt, the young foundation will also be able to draw upon a well of experience drawn from this season’s baptism by fire.
“The team as a whole realizes that we have a lot to learn and work on to make us successful next year,” Nachtergaele said. “Hopefully we will take this year as the first step towards our success."