SPORTS

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September 23, 2008

Women's soccer hits the ground running

Although their first two matches weren't perfect in execution, the women's soccer team is perfectly fine with a perfect 2-0 start to their season.

Early signs point to the 24th-ranked Maroons picking up from where they left off at the end of last season, as they won 4-2 at UW-Lacrosse on August 30 and prevailed 1-0 over Carleton in sodden conditions five days later. Both matches tested the system that head coach Amy Reifert has implemented, indicating how well preseason preparations translated into on-field execution and illuminating the kinks that still need to be smoothed out.

Last season's roller-coaster trajectory culminated in a bittersweet second-round exit from the NCAA tournament, with the Maroons losing 5-4 in a penalty shootout to UW-Stevens Point. The offseason proved successful from a recruiting perspective, however, as Reifert brought in a talented crop of players to fill key positions vacated by graduated seniors, specifically in goal and in defense.

The result is a characteristically deep squad that thrives on organization in the back, leadership and strength up the middle, and a multifaceted attack that can cause a multitude of problems for opposing defenses.

Reifert relied on the depth of her squad against the UW-Lacrosse Eagles (1-1), utilizing 24 players and getting production from returning players and rookies alike. Third-year midfielder Claire Gill opened the scoring for the Maroons in the 16th minute, with third-year winger Katie Klamann notching an assist. Gill doubled her tally two minutes later with a goal scored off a free kick.

Gill turned provider in the second half, assisting on Chicago's third goal, which was notched by second-year defender Claire Denz. Quick successions of goals proved key on the afternoon, as first-year midfielder Sevana Malkasian came off the bench to open her account and put the Maroons up 4-0.

The Eagles pulled two goals back through fourth-year forwards Aimee Schneider and Sarah Harrington but were unable to mount any late pressure to challenge the Maroons, who outshot their opponents 17-6 and held on for the 4-2 result.

"In our first game we had a lot of success finding our forwards, playing...a little more of an attacking style, dropping back, and moving forward," Reifert said. "We created some great opportunities in front of goal. We didn't finish all of them, but I felt like we had some great chances and that, both offensively and defensively, we started to put the pieces together and played within the game plan."

The Maroons' second match on September 4 was anything but straightforward. The incessant downpour was hardly favorable weather for a soccer game, and it showed, with only 18 total shots logged all afternoon. For 88 minutes, the Maroons and Carleton Knights (2-1) battled on the rain-soaked turf field, before third-year forward Brooke Bontz broke the deadlock with 1:40 left on the clock. Collecting a pass from second-year forward Sarah Loh, Bontz turned and shot from the edge of the box, sealing the narrowest of victories.

"We didn't play well to the conditions, which was a little frustrating," Reifert said. "In the last 20 minutes, we finally found our style of play. We found people's feet; we found good support; we made better possession passes in the final third that could then lead to us scoring."

Loh hit the post with a shot of her own midway through the second half, while first-year goalkeeper Emma Gormley contributed with a point-blank save that kept the score sheet clean.

With a highly experienced core of players, a bright start to the season, and no major offseason injuries for which to compensate, the Maroons are primed to aim as high as they want.

"We try not to talk about goals; we try to talk about doing all the little things that then allow the goals to happen," Reifert said. "I have great expectations for this team: They are hard-working, they are talented, and for them, team is everything. That combination is going to allow us to be very, very successful."