SPORTS

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October 17, 2008

Women's soccer preps for critical UAA weekend

[img id="76862" align="alignleft"] When women’s soccer takes the field for two University Athletic Association (UAA) games this weekend, they could put themselves on the fast track to the postseason or send themselves to the bottom of conference standings.

Facing Brandeis (7–4–1, 1–1) this afternoon and NYU (9–3, 2–0) on Sunday, Chicago stands to benefit from a soft spot in an otherwise grueling schedule. If the Maroons fail to pick up valuable wins against unranked teams at home, they’ll likely be staring at a long climb to the top of the conference when they hit the road against 18th-ranked Rochester (8–2–2, 1–1) and 15th-ranked Wash U (9–2–1, 2–0) to close out their season at the start of November.

In the UAA preseason poll, the Maroons were picked to finish second, a result that would likely send them to the playoffs for the second year in a row, given the UAA’s prestige. Chicago has work to do for that prediction to pan out, however, as they now sit sixth in the standings. Four other squads, including Brandeis, carry a 1–1 record, but the Maroons’ struggles in non-conference play have given them a poor overall record for tie-breaking.

“Our NCAA bid at this point is very heavily relying on our UAA performance,” fourth-year midfielder Siggy Nachtergaele said. “So especially with one UAA loss on the books already, we have to come ready to play tomorrow. At the same time, this weekend offers us a chance to build on our performance in last weekend’s Carnegie game, which was a major turning point. We have some momentum on our side now, and this weekend is crucial towards maintaining it.”

After blowing out Carnegie (5–4–2, 0–2) 3–0 last Saturday, the Maroons have back-to-back wins for the first time since September 6, and they look likely to pick up a couple more. Chicago hasn’t dropped a decision to either Brandeis or NYU since falling 0–1 to the Violets in 2002.

Last year, the Maroons battled the Judges to a 1–1 tie. Looking more dangerous this time around, Brandeis is scoring more and conceding fewer goals than Chicago. Second-year forward Tiffany Pacheco gives Brandeis an offensive edge, as her eight goals on the season are the second-most scored by any player in the conference.

The Violets, who suffered a 4–0 drubbing from Chicago last October, are restructured this year and will carry momentum into Sunday, after a 2–1 upset of Rochester last Saturday. The victory over the Yellowjackets was the Violet’s first win over a ranked team in six years, and the squad, which went 1–5–1 in conference last year, is undefeated in UAA play.

Managing to get off an impressive 2.5 goals per game, NYU has a decided advantage over Chicago in scoring this season. The Maroons are netting just over 1.5 goals each outing.

“Both teams are hard working and aggressive, and can give you a lot of trouble if you don’t stick to your game plan,” Nachtergaele said. “Last year, that is exactly what happened with Brandeis. We didn’t maintain possession and let them run at us, and let them give us a lot of trouble. NYU, on the other hand, we shut down early, and [we] maintained control of the game.”

Trying to increase their goal production for the two high-scoring squads, the Maroons have spent the past week practicing attacking in the box, among other things.

“To prepare for the weekend, we’ve been working a lot on offense, on some patterns and combinations, and attacking at speed so that we can create a lot of dangerous chances in front of goal and finish them,” third-year midfielder Claire Gill said. “We’ve also worked on staying clean and sharp on defense so that we don’t give up any chances in the back and [on] stopping them before they get to our defensive third.”

The weekend’s games mark the third and fourth contests of a six-game home stand, during which the Maroons hope to go undefeated. Chicago had lost four out of five going into the stretch but carried the first two home matchups. They continue the quest for six straight at 4 p.m. today on Stagg Field.