October 20, 2009

After difficult loss, Maroons take out troubles on Case

Every season has its low and high moments, but rarely does a team experience both feelings in such a short time span as women’s soccer did last weekend.

Chicago (10–2–1, 2–1–1 UAA), ranked sixth heading into the weekend, was upset 3–1 by 18th-ranked Rochester (9–2–2, 3–1) on Friday. After suffering such a disappointing home loss, the Maroons needed a better effort on Sunday against Case (7–5–2, 2–2), and they got it. Chicago handily defeated the Spartans 5–1.

Playing against Rochester on Stagg Field turf, Chicago controlled possession for most of the first 20 minutes. Fourth-year defender Kaitlin Meyer made that possession advantage show on the scoreboard in the 14th minute when, in the chaos of the six-yard box, Meyer managed to head first-year defender Brigette Kragie’s corner kick past Yellowjackets goalkeeper Celeste Hornbach.

Chicago very nearly took a 2–0 lead in the 16th minute when third-year midfielder Emily Benoit hit the crossbar after being set up by a pass from fourth-year forward Brooke Bontz.

As the first half wore on, however, Rochester began to find their rhythm and put their considerable height and athleticism to good use. Nonetheless, it was only by means of a bizarre corner kick that the Yellowjackets were able to go to half level at 1–1. Midfielder Mae Butler’s corner held tight to the line and forced Chicago second-year goalkeeper Emma Gormley to attempt a save, but Gormley could only punch it into her own net.

After the break, Rochester wasted little time in taking the lead. In the 50th minute, Yellowjackets leading scorer Ellen Coleman got to the byline and delivered a perfect centering pass to an open Bridgette Varin, who blasted her shot past Gormley and into the top corner.

With Chicago pressing hard for an equalizer in the late stages of the game, Rochester took advantage and sealed the game with a counterattack goal in the 86th minute. Again, it was the Coleman-to-Varin combo that came up with the goal. Coleman split two defenders on the left wing before centering to Varin for an easy goal.

The loss dampened the UAA title hopes of the Maroons, who sit in third behind Wash U and Rochester. Chicago will have an opportunity to draw even with Wash U in the regular season finale, but in order for the Maroons to win the conference, Rochester must stumble in one of their last three UAA games.

All such scenarios are contingent upon the Maroons running the table in the UAA, so Chicago had to beat Case on Sunday to keep their conference hopes alive.

After the opening 20 minutes of the Case game were played mostly in midfield, Chicago’s offense caught fire. Just seconds after one of her shots sailed narrowly over the crossbar, third-year forward Sarah Loh found the net on a breakaway in the 22nd minute.

Nine minutes later, second-year forward Allison Hegel scored a similar goal. Fourth-year midfielder Melissa Plesac delivered a perfectly-timed through ball to beat the offside trap, and Hegel dribbled around Case goalkeeper Anna Kennedy before finding the angle to slide the ball in at the near post.

The barrage kept up in the second half. Loh scored a second goal in the 56th minute, on a penalty kick awarded after an dangerous slide tackle brought her down in Case’s box. In the 59th minute, the other half of Chicago’s prolific forward combo, fourth-year Brooke Bontz, got on the score sheet when she chested home a corner kick from Kragie.

Case earned a consolation through Kaitlyn Yule in the 74th minute, but only after the Maroons had withdrawn most of their starting lineup, including goalkeeper Gormley.

Benoit capped the rout for Chicago in the 88th minute by finally, after many near-misses, finding the net for the first time this season, on a drive to the top left corner.

It is never fortunate to face a strong team that has just suffered an upset, as Case saw Sunday. Chicago dictated the game to Case throughout, and that made all the difference.

It was an encouraging response after a dispiriting loss to Rochester. Against Rochester, the Maroons passed well on the fast Stagg turf for the first half of the opening period. However, as Rochester came into the game and began to use their strength and size advantage, Chicago played into their hands by attempting to bypass the midfield and play directly to the forwards. As Rochester gained momentum, even short passes became difficult and it was clear that Rochester would carry the game.

Sunday on the grass, Chicago played their game and played it as well as they have all season. The Maroons unlocked Case with their passing game and found their forwards in dangerous positions and effectively used through balls to release their forwards on breakaways. Chicago isn’t a team that will win games by outmuscling their opponents, but if the Maroons continue to capitalize on their superior quickness and skill, they can avoid any more costly defeats.