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October 24, 2008

Defense key as women’s soccer tops Spartans

Women’s soccer probably wasn’t ecstatic about heading onto the field for a makeup game in Wednesday night’s cutting wind, but some lockdown defense in the second half made sure a 2–1 win over Illinois Wesleyan sent them home happy.

Third-year defender Katie Klamann and third-year midfielder Claire Gill each scored in the first half to put Chicago (8–5–1) up before the Maroons’ defense shut down the Titans (11–5) in the second half.

“I think we played well last night. I think IWU taxed us more than any team we’ve seen in the last three weeks,” head coach Amy Reifert said. “They’re dynamic, they keep the ball moving, so I think we reacted pretty well.”

Chicago made the most of its first trip into the Titans’ zone. Met with a cluster of Wesleyan defenders, fourth-year forward Olivia Ndyabagye popped the ball out to fourth-year midfielder Siggy Nachtergaele, who passed to Klamann near the left edge of the box. Looking to cross it into Ndyabagye or third-year forward Brooke Bontz, Klamann sent a low ball toward the far post. Instead of a cross, though, Klamann came away with her first goal of the season, and Chicago came away with a 1–0 lead just over three minutes into the match.

The score, a slow roller from 15 yards out, was originally attributed to Bontz, who made a sliding stab at the ball as it approached the goal line. Some also thought it might have been an own-goal for Wesleyan.

“Klamann was just trying to cross the ball. Clearly that’s what she was trying to do, was get the ball across, so it wasn’t a shot in any sense from her,” Reifert said. “It was just a mess. It certainly wasn’t a pretty goal, but I feel like every time you can put the ball inside the six, good things might happen.”

The next 15 minutes set the tone for the night, as neither team was able to establish any kind of extended momentum. Wesleyan, however, created a few opportunities just in front of Chicago’s goal, and in the 20th minute, the Titans struck back.

Streaking up the left side, second-year midfielder Alyssa Feulner found an open look from near the byline at the edge of the Maroons’ box. With little resistance from Chicago’s defense, Feulner lofted a shot over fourth-year keeper Polly Cline’s outstretched arms and into the back of the net, tying the game 1–1.

“From my perspective, we just did not step hard and tackle the ball, and then we ended up giving them a free shot and it just sort of floated up and over,” Reifert said. “I was upset because, clearly, we have to tackle her—you have to make a play on the ball. We allowed the pass to happen, and then we allowed the shot to happen.”

Just two minutes later, Wesleyan nearly took the lead when a Titan was able to get off a shot that bounced off the inside of the crossbar and off of Cline’s hands, setting up another shot that missed just right of the goal.

The Maroons, however, wasted little time in regaining the advantage. In the 26th minute, Nachtergaele played a corner directly in front of the Titans’ net, giving Gill a goal from four yards out.

“The first serve was fabulous, and it got down on the ground in front of Claire, and she buried it,” Reifert said. “It happened pretty quickly; it was like, ‘bang bang.’ But clearly we feel like every corner we get is a great scoring opportunity.”

The two squads battled back and forth for the rest of the period, with neither able to establish any serious scoring threats. With Wesleyan leading the first half in shots by a 9–4 margin, Reifert looked to make some defensive shifts for the second half.

“They weren’t able to get easy shots, and then I felt like in the second half, we made great adjustments,” Reifert said. “The first half, they ran it at us, and in the second half, we got our act together and started winning the 50–50 battle, and as opposed to just banging everything as far as could bang it, we started to play possession.”

Despite the absence of veteran fourth-year defender Maggie Costich, who missed the game with a concussion, Chicago’s defense was able to limit Wesleyan to just four shots in the second half.

Barring one open look that the Titans found from the 25, a shot that bounced off the lower part of the crossbar before being kicked out of bounds, Chicago held off Wesleyan from any serious scoring threats.

Now, with just one more home contest before a three-game trip that ends the season with matches against 19th-ranked Rochester (10–3–2, 2–2) and 11th-ranked Wash U (11–2–1, 4–0), Reifert is looking for her team to continue the high level of play it has displayed in the last few games.

“I really feel like we’re playing some pretty great soccer now, we need to continue to play sharp defensively, and we need to continue to finish those chances,” Reifert said.

The Maroons play a makeup game with North Park Sunday at noon before continuing their UAA schedule at Case (7–8, 0–4) on Halloween.

“We have to win out; there’s no big secret here,” Reifert said.