November 1, 2005

Women’s soccer rolling towards tourney

After four straight dominating performances, women’s soccer is ready and eager to take on archrival Wash U.

The 14th-ranked Maroons (13–2–2, 4–1–1) walked over both NYU (7–8–1, 1–5–0) and Brandeis (7–8–1, 1–5–0) this past weekend, creating plenty of scoring opportunities while suffocating their opponents’ attacks. Though Chicago only converted a pair of offensive chances in Friday’s 2–0 victory, the team got on the board early and often against the Judges in a 5–0 blowout Sunday. Fourth-year striker Renee Neuner led the charge in Waltham, netting two goals to give her a UAA-record 24 in her conference play career.

Neuner didn’t do it on her own. After a first half of one-sided but scoreless play against the Violets, it was another offensive-minded senior who broke open the scoring. Ten minutes into the second half, midfielder Monica Michelotti collected a rebound off first-year NYU keeper Katie Barnesha and drilled the ball right back past her for her second goal in as many games. Fourth-year center defender Diana Connett collected her first assist of the year on the play, sending in the initial shot after a scrum in front of the net.

Michelotti’s partner in the center midfield, fourth-year Randi Leppla, knocked in a similar goal 20 minutes later for the insurance tally. Leppla’s score was her first of the year, and provided the first sign that she has returned to form in her offensive play as well as on the defensive end. Playing alongside Michelotti, who missed the first half of the season with a hip injury, has helped open her game up.

“Monica’s an amazing player, and I feel that she’s finally back to where she was,” Leppla said. “For me it’s been really good because I have a little more freedom because she can take care of things in a different sense than I can.

“We weren’t sure how well we were going to work together because we hadn’t played together very much at all, but I think we’ve clicked and built off each other really well.”

The Maroons ran roughshod over NYU, allowing only a handful of shots, none threatening, through to fourth-year keeper Andrea Przybysz. The only dark cloud on the horizon was the team’s continued struggle with finishing, as the Maroons failed to convert on a number of quality opportunities.

Sunday’s game against Brandeis would ultimately be another story, though it looked like more of the same at halftime. First-year right-mid Olivia Ndyabagye took advantage of a defensive miscue for the third goal of her rookie campaign, stealing a clearance before beating a defender and firing the shot at the 11:46 mark, but the Maroons were otherwise unable to break through. The Maroons outshot the Judges 12 to 1 in the first period, but the attack again failed to finish chances.

Within three-and-a-half minutes after the break, however, Chicago was running away with a comfortable 3–0 lead.

Second-year striker Christine Farmer grabbed her second goal of the year 1:07 into the second half, receiving Ndyabagye’s throw-in, turning to beat a defender, and sending the ball into the back of the net.

Leppla set up the next score with a beautifully slotted through-ball. The veteran midfielder found Neuner in the middle of the box, and Chicago’s all-time scoring leader easily beat the keeper with one of her trademark finishes to break the previous UAA goals record of 22. Neuner and Ndyabagye opened up the opportunity with parallel runs to the right, causing the defense to shift with them and leaving Neuner one-on-one with the goalie.

Third-year midfielder Bridget Hogan made it 4–0 at 75:49, dribbling out of the scramble and sending the shot in for her first goal of the year.

Finally, Neuner built on her new scoring record with her 24th, putting in the rebound with just under two minutes left. The tally was her 14th overall this year. She has been both accurate and deadly, nailing 40 percent of her shot attempts.

The past four games were a break from the rough early-season battles that tested Chicago’s toughness and have indicated that the Maroons are clicking on both ends of the field. Pryzbysz has been on fire, allowing only one goal in her last 715 minutes, while the back four and Leppla have bottled up most attacking opportunities.

“It’s been good in the sense that we’re playing really well now, but the less grueling schedule has been nice for us because it’s not so hard on our bodies. It’s going to give us a good attitude going into these games coming up,” Leppla said. “Especially the 5–0 win—Brandeis wasn’t a bad team at all, they were better than NYU—we really buckled down and scored some good goals finally.”

The offense has also been similarly stellar, overwhelming opponents with a relentless attack despite problems around the net. Ndyabagye and fourth-year midfielder Jacqui de Leon have been especially effective on the sidelines, using their speed and moves to beat defenders before sending crosses toward the net.

The rookie Ndyabagye and the veteran de Leon will both be in demand Saturday in the regular season and conference finale against Wash U (11–6–1, 3–0–0), the Maroons’ longtime nemesis. Though the Bears, the coaches’ preseason pick to win the title, have stumbled to a .500 record through six conference games, neither team will lollygag its way through the weekend affair at Stagg Field. Wash U has taken the last two matches, including a 2–1 double-overtime win in Chicago two years ago that spoiled the Maroons’ run in an unbeaten season.

“Wash U has ruined our conference season more than once,” Leppla said. “Just for our personal vendettas against Wash U, it would be great to finish our last regular season game with a win against them.”

Asked if the Bears’ off-year affects the importance of the game, Leppla interrupted, “It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. It’s still Wash U.”