When women’s soccer takes the field against Aurora today in the first round of the NCAA tournament, the Maroons may have the distinct feeling that they have done this all before. That’s because, in fact, they have.
Back on September 26 and 29, Chicago hosted consecutive matches against Aurora and Wheaton. The Maroons won both games, defeating Aurora 2–0 and Wheaton 3–1. If Chicago (14–3–1) is to advance past this weekend in the tournament, they may have to repeat that very feat.
The first game of today’s NCAA Regional doubleheader at Stagg is a rematch between Aurora (16–5) and Chicago; the second is between Wheaton (15–4–1) and Carleton (10–5–5), and the two winners will play their second-round game tomorrow, again at Stagg.
In the first Chicago–Aurora clash, second-half goals from fourth-year forward Brooke Bontz and second-year forward Haleigh Stopa powered the Maroons past the Spartans. Chicago dominated the game statistically, recording 23 shots and 10 corner kicks, while Aurora took just seven shots and one corner kick.
But that match was seven weeks ago. The Spartans have won 10 of 11 games since, and have a goal differential of +31 over that stretch. Aurora head coach Kanute Drugan pointed to his team’s maturation as the reason for their strong close to the season.
“We are a young team. We have had to grow and develop quickly. We came together as we had hoped to do and that is when we started to gain the success that we had difficulty achieving earlier,” he said.
Drugan identified team play as one of the Spartans’ biggest strengths.
“One of the blessings we continue to receive is that our success is shared throughout the group. We never know who it is that will step up big for us and it usually is someone different in each game.”
The Spartans are looking for a much different result from the one they got in the first game, but Drugan did not expect to change his game plan for this match.
“We do not intend to do anything different as a result of having played them in September. We are who we are, and that, in the end, is who we shall be,” he said.
Less than an hour after Chicago and Aurora wrap, Wheaton and Carleton will knockoff their fourth contest in the past two seasons. Wheaton has won the past three meetings, including a 2–1 win over the Knights in the quarterfinals of last year’s NCAA tournament.
Carleton’s record this year is pedestrian for a tournament team, but the Knights showed they are a force by beating 10th-ranked Concordia in penalty kicks to reach the MIAC tournament finals, where they defeated Macalester 3–0.
Wheaton, for it’s part, is one of the powerhouses of D-III soccer. The Thunder finished as national runners-up in 2008 after winning NCAA championships in 2006 and 2007. This season, however, has been more difficult.
“This has not been a very smooth year overall for us, in comparison to the past three to five years,” head coach Pete Felske said. “Lately, we’ve been playing better, with more confidence. We went through a streak earlier in the year where we found a way to win but weren’t playing well.”
If the Thunder are to replicate past successes, they’ll undoubtedly rely heavily upon fourth-year forward Taryne Lee. Lee was recently named CCIW Player of the Year for the third consecutive season. .
Unfortunately, Wheaton will be without the services of another key player, second-year forward Jaime Orweiler. According to Felske, Orweiler broke her collarbone about a week ago.