[img id="80753" align="alignleft"] Consistency in the face of tough competition has not come easily for women’s soccer this season, and with the University Athletic Association (UAA) season fast approaching, the Maroons know they don’t have much time left to smooth out the bumps.
In a roller-coaster weekend, the Maroons (4–3–1) first defeated DePauw (2–5–1) Saturday in a game that illustrated how well they are capable of playing. Three nights later, the story was reversed, as Chicago stumbled against regional rivals and defending two-time national champion Wheaton (9–1–1).
The 2–0 win over the Tigers was a comprehensive performance from top to bottom, and Chicago sent forth a relentless attack from the outset, outshooting their opponents 13–2 in a fast-paced first half. Moving fourth-year midfielder Olivia Ndyabagye into the striker position, the Maroons used her speed in tandem with an effective wing game to penetrate DePauw’s stopper-sweeper defense. However, Chicago’s dominance did not translate into a goal, as fourth-year goalkeeper Brooke Shipley made six saves to keep the match at a scoreless draw going into the break.
The Maroons continued with the same aggressive offense in the second half. Ten minutes in, fourth-year midfielder Siggy Nachtergaele aimed a stinging free kick at the top left corner of the goal, which was turned behind the net with a superb leaping save from Shipley. A short play from the resulting corner saw Nachtergaele find space just inside the DePauw box and launch another missile toward the top left corner. This time, Shipley could only tip the ball onto the crossbar, and the ball landed just inside the goal line, giving the Maroons a 1–0 lead at the 55:46 mark.
Although DePauw was never in danger of equalizing—the Tigers didn’t register a single shot in the second half—the Maroons put the game out of reach in the 74th minute through second-year forward Sarah Loh. After receiving a pass from third-year midfielder Claire Gill, Loh surged into the Tigers area, took the ball around the keeper, and snuck her shot in from the tightest of angles. Chicago finished the game with a 27–2 shot advantage, first-year goalkeeper Emma Gormley was not called upon to make a single save, and the Maroons broke a three-game winless streak.
“Both technically and tactically we felt confident, and the team clearly executed,” head coach Amy Reifert said. “All of the pieces fell into place, we had a lot of bounces go our way; good things happen when we play as good as we did on Saturday, and it led to a very complete performance.”
Whatever confidence was gained from the DePauw match needed to be fully channeled on Monday in order to claim a result in Wheaton, but a 3–1 result proved disappointing for coach and players alike.
“Wheaton makes you make mistakes,” Reifert said. “You can’t allow a team that’s as good as Wheaton the types of opportunities we allowed them... and think you have a chance to compete.”
The eighth-ranked Thunder took advantage of early lapses in concentration in Chicago’s defense, building up an early 2–0 lead. In the fifth minute, Gormley made a lunging save on second-year forward Brittany Bergh, but the ball fell to unmarked fourth-year midfielder Kari Klynstra, who slotted home the rebound. Five minutes later, a hard, low shot by Bergh bypassed Gormley and deflected into the net off a Maroon defender to double Wheaton’s lead. The Maroons were limited to two shots all half.
The Thunder further padded their lead early into the second half. A long switch pass from fourth-year defender Lauren Moser found third-year forward Taryne Lee, who headed the ball to her own feet and nudged it past an onrushing Gormley.
Chicago regrouped and nearly pulled a goal back when Loh was released by a pass from third-year forward Brooke Bontz. After breezing past her defender, Loh took a left-footed shot which was parried well by second-year goalkeeper Ingrid Erickson. The Maroons held Wheaton in check for the rest of the game, but only managed to snag a consolation goal late in the game. In the 85th minute, a corner kick delivered by second-year midfielder Emily Benoit bounced through a crowd of players inside the box and found the foot of third-year forward Melissa Plesac, who drove it low into the net.
Despite the loss, the Wheaton game represented the final challenge for the Maroons, who play arguably the nation’s toughest non-conference schedule. The next step for Reifert’s squad, after evaluating their strengths and weaknesses over the past month, is to take on the annual scrum of the UAA season.
“The biggest lesson we have learned in the past two weeks is, put simply, what it takes to win and what happens when you don’t do exactly that, and that’s going to be valuable coming into the UAA,” Nachtergaele said. “We still have to improve in a lot of areas, especially in making possession-oriented decisions, but overall I think the tough competition in the UAA will only help us.”
After the highs and lows of last weekend, Reifert is placing the emphasis on communication on the pitch, and the squad has picked up on that message as well.
“If we can pick up our communication on the field it will eliminate most of the problems we have encountered on defense and allow our midfield and forwards to combine more effectively,” said fourth-year co-captain Anne Scherer. “We [must] continue to be strong in the battle for 50-50 balls and win the 50-50 battles if we want to succeed this weekend against Emory.”
The Maroons open on Saturday at 12th ranked Emory University (8–1–1), in what many consider a match between two top teams in the conference.