Chicago’s soccer teams have played a combined 34 games over the past two months, but now both teams’ seasons rest on one day of play against an old rival.
When the Maroons take the field tomorrow against Wash U, much more will be on the line than the pride and bragging rights that come with a conference win. Playoff berths and a UAA title will be at stake as well.
On the women’s side, Wash U (14–2–1, 5–0–1 UAA), currently ranked seventh nationally, has been dominant ever since dropping each of their first two games. The Bears suffered consecutive losses to 14th-ranked Illinois Wesleyan and 13th-ranked Johns Hopkins to start the season, but are undefeated in the 15 games since. Only Emory (6–5–5, 1–3–2) managed to take even a draw off them.
Wash U’s stellar run has put them in position to secure a fourth consecutive UAA title with a win over Chicago (13–3–1, 3–2–1). However, if Chicago can tie or beat the Bears, that would open the door for Rochester (12–3–2, 5–1) to win the conference by topping Case (9–6–2, 3–3), the Yellowjackets’ opponent this weekend.
Besides playing spoiler, the Maroons have business of their own to handle. Chicago’s women are on the postseason bubble. Despite suffering a disappointing 2–0 loss at Brandeis (8–6–3, 2–3–1) last Sunday, the Maroons improved from fourth to third in Wednesday’s NCAA regional rankings thanks to shakeups elsewhere in the Central. This bodes well for Chicago’s postseason hopes, but Chicago still needs a result against Wash U.
A win would almost certainly seal a spot in the tournament, but a draw or a loss would leave the Maroons’ future up in the air. In that case, Chicago would become dependent upon what happens in other matches and, ultimately, the whims of the selection committee. That means tomorrow’s Senior Day match is a must-win if the Maroons want to control their own fate.
“This isn’t a game that we ever want to lose, but, for the seniors especially, this game is a must win. This is their last guaranteed game, and a win against Wash U will most likely mean we get to keep playing,” second-year goalkeeper Emma Gormley said.
In order to beat the Bears, Chicago has to cope with their three outstanding forwards: Caryn Rosoff, Emma Brown, and Lee Ann Felder. Brown leads the Bears with 14 goals, Rosoff has contributed 11, and Felder has chipped in five, plus a team-leading eight assists.
“Wash U plays with three up top, which is different than a lot of the teams we’ve seen so far this season. As far as defending against a three front goes, we just need to make sure we’re communicating and picking up runners as they come through,” Gormley said. “We can’t lose focus for one second in the back, or disastrous things can happen.”
As for the men, Chicago (11–3–3, 4–1–1) is still mathematically alive in the race for the UAA title, but the Maroons would need both Case (7–8–3, 0–5–1) to tie or upset Rochester (12–1–2, 5–1), and Emory (11–4–1, 2–3–1) to upset Carnegie (14–2, 5–1), either of which is unlikely to occur. A more realistic goal is netting an at-large bid, and the men are on more solid ground than the women in that respect.
Chicago remains third in the central region in this week’s regional rankings. Even if the Maroons were to lose, they would still have a solid shot at an at-large bid, because the teams ranked above them regionally—Wheaton and Dominican—are favored to win their conference tournaments, and thus earn automatic bids. A win over Wash U, though, would make qualification all but a foregone conclusion.
For his part, head coach Scott Wiercinski is not distracted by all the tournament scenarios and has his eyes squarely on the Bears (9–6–3, 3–3).
“It’s just a game against a good opponent that fortunately we get to play at home. If something else happens, like the tournament or something else, that’s all gravy,” he said.
Third-year forward Alex Clifford had similar thoughts, and said it’s still imperative that Chicago produce its best effort.
“We need to stay focused and keep in mind that a loss is not the end of the world. But if we don’t put all our effort out there and leave everything on the field, then that is the end of the world, because we’ve let each other down,” he said.