A little luck can go a long way. After a pair of important victories over the weekend, women’s soccer’s fortunes have changed for the better, but with an NCAA tournament berth still anything but a sure thing, the Maroons will now have to take their fate into their own hands.
In a pair of must-win games, Chicago (12–4–1, 4–2–0 UAA) got off to a superb start on Saturday with a 5–1 rout of NYU (6–9–1, 0–6–0 UAA), before finishing things off with a 2–0 thumping of Brandeis (8–5–3, 1–2–3 UAA) Sunday. The opener featured an unorthodox first half hat trick by third-year defender Amanda Catalano, with all three goals coming from set piece deliveries. It also marked head coach Amy Reifert’s landmark 200th win while in charge of the program.
Both squads started tentatively Saturday as they sought to get their bearings in the heavily slanted winds, which made all airborne balls move in a highly unpredictable fashion. After only 10 minutes, Catalano put the home team on top with her first goal, an inswinging corner that third-year goalkeeper Katie Barnes swiped at before tipping the ball off her fingers and into the net. At the half hour mark, Catalano seized on another dead ball opportunity to send in a free kick that Barnes again let slip from her fingertips, under no pressure at all inside the six-yard box.
Catalano remained unstoppable with the ball at her feet, and she completed her hat trick a minute before halftime with a second inswinging corner kick delivery. Although the lead was obtained in the least likely of ways, the Maroons had dominated the entire time.
“All week we talked about playing a little better possession ball, playing with a sense of intensity, and making things happen more quickly in the final third,” Reifert said.
At the start of the second half, the Maroons displayed all aspects of their game, and the attack kept up the pressure despite the three-goal cushion and the now-unfavorable wind. The Maroons only took eight minutes to notch their next goal, and it was Catalano in the thick of the action yet again. Her free kick was met by third-year forward Christine Farmer inside the NYU box, and although her initial shot was blocked, second-year midfielder Siggy Nachtergaele was on hand to clean up with a header.
The four-goal padding allowed Reifert to rest up the bulk of her starters and give some of the lesser-used players quality minutes. Despite all the new faces on the field, it was fourth-year midfielder Bridget Hogan who tallied Chicago’s last goal, receiving the ball from first-year forward Melissa Plesac and taking it across the top of the NYU box to fire an unstoppable left-footed shot past second-year substitute goalkeeper Rebekah Kramer.
NYU would notch a consolation goal in the 79th minute through a superbly taken free kick from first-year midfielder Lola Coker. The late goal, however, was no real loss for the Maroons, who had long since turned their attention to Sunday’s game. The 2–0 victory over the Judges saw an astonishing 14 corner kicks being awarded to the Maroons over the course of the match.
Proving to be a much tougher team to break down than the Violets, Brandeis managed to keep Chicago off the scoreboard in the early going before eventually caving in.
Needing to step up and create the opportunities for Farmer to shine, the Maroons did just that 22 minutes in. A Catalano corner found the head of second-year defender Anne Scherer, who flicked on net. The ball was initially blocked by third-year shot stopper Betsey Medow, but only as far as Farmer, whose follow up attempt was on target for a 1–0 lead.
With the Maroon defense showing its fatigue from Saturday’s outing, Brandeis regained its footing after the break. The Judges created a number of dangerous drives and crosses, but each time the Maroons were able to repel the attack. The Judges defense was still hemorrhaging corner kicks, however, and it was another Catalano special that led to Farmer’s second goal in the 68th minute. Scherer was again in the mix, getting a foot underneath the delivered ball before Medow could smother it, and Farmer chipped her shot into the net from close range.
Combined with a predatory instinct, Farmer’s newfound control in and around the opponents’ danger area has notched her 14 goals so far this season, giving her the fifth-highest season output in school history. Her continued return to form after a knee injury has added a much-needed dimension to the improvements seen in the new-look attack.
“So much of what Christine does has nothing to do with what’s right in front of the goal,” Reifert said. “She wins us balls in the midfield that then allow us to get forward and get into the final third. Quite honestly, that was part of what was missing when she was gone—not just the scoring punch, but our ability to move from point to point in front of the goal.”
The two victories over the weekend will provide a tremendous confidence boost to the Maroons ahead of their most important match of the season. When they take to the field against 13th-ranked Wash U (15–2–0, 6–0–0) Saturday, the Maroons will be playing for a spot in the postseason. A win would all but assure them a spot, but a loss would likely end their hopes of a final four repeat.
“We’re definitely ready for Wash U. We have to come out strong…. We have to set everything aside and play like we know we can,” Farmer said.