November 4, 2008

Road wins keep women’s soccer in playoff hunt

Women’s soccer had to do two simple things during this weekend’s road trip. First, win at Case Western. Second, win at Rochester.

Done and done.

Needing two wins to keep their postseason hopes alive, the Maroons (11–5–1, 4–2 UAA) came through twice, beating Case 1–0 (8–6, 0–6) Friday,and then prevailing 2–1 over 16th-ranked Rochester (10–5–2, 2–4) in double overtime Sunday.

Although Chicago entered the weekend with a slim chance at winning the UAA and getting an automatic bid to the NCAAs, eighth-ranked Wash U (14–2–1, 6–0) ruled out that scenario when it clinched the conference title with a 2–1 win over Case on Sunday. But the weekend’s two wins improve the odds of an at-large berth for the Maroons, who wrap up their regular season at Wash U this Saturday.

Of this past weekend’s two matches, the date at Rochester came the closest to derailing Chicago’s postseason hopes. That game was knotted up in the second overtime period and was less than five minutes from ending in a tie when fourth-year midfielder Siggy Nachtergaele got the ball on the right wing in the Jackets’ half. Nachtergaele crossed a ball to the far post and nearly scored, but it ricocheted off the crossbar and to the feet of second-year defender Claire Denz. Denz passed to third-year forward Brooke Bontz, who fired and scored the golden goal.

It looked for a moment like the Maroons might not even get a tie against Rochester. The hosts got the first goal of the game in the 64th minute, when second-year forward Bridgette Varin took a shot that was blocked by fourth-year keeper Polly Cline. After Cline’s save, though, the ball rebounded back into play, and third-year forward Erin Carballo buried it from just beyond the six-yard line.

Down one after Carballo’s goal, the Maroons had to score quickly, since they needed to move ahead and not just equalize in order to give themselves the best chance of making the postseason.

“The hardest part of playing from behind is getting the momentum and flow of the game back,” Nachtergaele said. ”This time though, it was very much a ‘now or never’ situation, and the intensity we started with after the goal got us back in the game very quickly.”

Using their deficit as a motivator, Chicago began pressing Rochester and, with just over 11 minutes left in regulation, the team managed to tie the game. The equalizer came off a Nachtergaele corner kick, which ended up at the feet of fourth-year Anne Scherer. Scherer chanced a shot that was turned back by third-year keeper Celeste Hornbach, but third-year midfielder Claire Gill settled the rebound and put it in.

The last-minute heroics in Rochester would have been for naught, though, if the Maroons hadn’t first put down Case. Case entered the match 0–4 in UAA play, and the Spartans are usually one of the weaker teams in the conference, but they have played some good teams to close finishes this year, and Chicago had to guard against a letdown.

Whatever fears of under performing the Maroons had were to put rest early, though, when fourth-year forward Olivia Ndyabagye scored what proved to be the game-winning goal in the 21st minute. Third-year defender Kaitlin Meyer assisted Ndyabagye’s goal, her third on the season.

Case managed a couple of late attempts on the Maroons’ goal, but Chicago dictated the tempo through most of the game and outshot the Spartans 16–5 on the day.

This weekend’s pair of wins set up a showdown with Wash U this Saturday that will likely decide the Maroons’ postseason fate for the second season in a row. Wash U had clinched the conference prior to last season’s game, which was held in Chicago, and the Bears faithfully brought a sheet cake to celebrate their UAA title. But it was the Maroons who did most of the celebrating that day, as Chicago won 2–1 on the strength of Bontz’s pair of late goals. That win earned the Maroons an at-large berth to the postseason.

Wash U, which is still undefeated in conference play, will carry a nine-game winning streak into this season’s game. This year marks the Bears’ third straight UAA title and their fifth in the last six years.