November 2, 2007

It's now or never for women's soccer against Bears

Once again, women’s soccer is facing a do-or-die situation on the last game day of the season—but this time, there’s more at stake.

Yes, the Maroons (10–4–1, 3–1–2 UAA) will take the field against Wash U (15–1–0, 5–1–0) on Saturday to try and cement a postseason berth, but for the returning players, an even bigger prize lies in the chance to accomplish what they couldn’t a year ago.

The 2006 UAA closer ended in a 1–0 defeat at Wash U, effectively ending the Maroons’ season. The fact was merely confirmed by the NCAA championship selection the day after the game.

“At the end of last season, I think we hit a wall, and though we weren’t playing badly, we didn’t have an edge,” fourth-year defender Amanda Catalano said. “The team knows what it feels like to miss out on the tournament and we obviously don’t want that again, so we’re all ready to do whatever it takes to win.”

The circumstances surrounding Saturday’s showdown are identical in principle: Chicago faces a must-win situation against perennial league rival Wash U, who has already clinched the UAA title and will now aim to spoil the Maroons’ hopes of returning for the postseason.

Yet several crucial details of this season’s fixture could prove decisive tomorrow. The South Siders will play at home, and they will play having jumped up two spots in the NCAA regional rankings, from ninth place to seventh, following last Sunday’s 1–0 victory against Rochester.

The biggest difference, however, could be an intangible one—the Maroons are riding a fresh wave of belief, coming off several of the season’s best performances.

“This year, as opposed to last year, we just have a lot more confidence going into this game and a lot more desire,” fourth-year forward Christine Farmer said. “We realize now our team has the potential for success, and we are ready to show everyone else what we already know.”

“From that Brandeis/NYU weekend, our momentum has been ‘all engines go,’ so to speak, and we’ve been playing some of the best soccer I’ve seen in my four years here at Chicago,” fourth-year goalkeeper Amanda Sutter added.

Of the teams ahead of Chicago in the regional rankings, second-ranked Wash U is guaranteed a spot, having already won the UAA, and first-ranked Wheaton, third-ranked UW–Eau Claire, and fifth-ranked St. Benedict are favorites to win their respective conference tournaments, which also conclude tomorrow. Barring a monumental upset in any of those tournaments, the Maroons will determine their own fate in securing a Pool C at-large bid, 19 of which will be selected to fill up the bracket along with the 38 conference winners and three independent bids.

“We know we deserve a bid, but bids are not handed to you on a golden platter; they must be won,” Sutter said.

The Maroons will try to win with statistics similar to those they logged last season. Defensively, Chicago has allowed 14 goals in 17 games, only one more than last year, and recorded 10 shutouts. The Maroons have a slight edge on offense, which averages 2.02 goals per game, compared with 1.84 in 2006.

Indeed, the offense has been a hot topic from day one of the season, with Farmer, second-year Brooke Bontz, and first-year Sarah Loh leading the charge en route to a 5–0 start for the team. After Loh suffered a torn ACL, goal production suffered, and the Maroons were able to tally only four goals in the next five games. A recurrence of Farmer’s MCL injury in a UAA match against Brandeis threatened to dry out the well, but the team rallied together, putting forth a comprehensive performance in the next match—a 4–0 victory at NYU.

“Beating NYU 4–0 on the road was a huge result for us because it was our first UAA win, and it was good to beat someone soundly again,” Catalano said. “The offense needed to score a few goals, and the defense needed to get a shutout to remind us what we were capable of.”

Catalano has been a catalyst in the attack, notching two goals and three of her team-leading six assists in the last five games, which have seen the Maroons return to their early-season form: formidable on defense, dynamic on offense. Catalano, along with Farmer, Sutter, who has claimed eight of the team’s 10 shutouts this season, and midfielder Eva DeLaurentiis, form a senior spine which will lead the charge tomorrow.

The Bears, on the other hand, will look to their consistent producers on the season, second-year forward Caryn Rosoff and third-year midfielder Caitlin Malone, with fourth-year goalkeeper Carrie Sear sporting a 0.66 GAA. Wash U’s potent attack has been kept off the scoreboard only once this season, in a 1–0 loss against Wheaton.

“We will go over a lot of tactical things this week, but ultimately a desire to win and a desire to leave everything on the field is what we must bring,” Sutter said.

The Maroons should be doubly motivated by their postseason dreams and by the possibility of reversing the frustrating end to last season.

“I think it will come down to who wants it more, and I think that on Saturday, there will be no doubt that we are the team who wants it more,” Farmer said.