Bears to beat: Wash. U. women’s soccer begins title defense
After the Washington University football team closes out the regular season with a Student Union-hosted tailgate at 10 a.m. and Senior Day at 1 p.m., women’s soccer will kick things into a higher gear with the start of the postseason at 5:30 p.m.
The Red and Green head into the NCAA First Round with a head of steam after derailing then-No. 1 University of Chicago last week on the road. With the victory, the Bears announced to the rest of Division III that they are tournament-ready, improbably charging back from a late 1-0 deficit with two stunning goals in 41 seconds.
In a season in which Wash. U. toppled plenty of top opponents—No. 10 Pomona-Pitzer Colleges, No. 8 University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, No. 21 Emory University, No. 25 New York University and Chicago, outscoring those squads 8-2—the most recent was also the most remarkable. The Maroons had outscored opponents 65-4 heading in, including 31 unanswered goals in their last 825:34 of game action.
Not only were the Red and Green able to break through against the Maroon line, their process was sound. While only one other Chicago opponent had been able to put up double-digit shots, Wash. U. generated 19. That input led to the dual breakthroughs —the only two Chicago has allowed in a single contest, much less a single minute. And freshman goalkeeper Emma Greenfield and the Bear backs were just as impressive in stifling a typically relentless Maroon attack. It’s no surprise Chicago was unable to net multiple goals or record a single assist for the first time all year; it only managed to offer nine shots, its first single-digit showing of the season.
That performance alone may have returned Wash. U.’s status to team to beat. After capturing the 2016 championship, the Bears were ranked No. 1 and held onto that spot for a few weeks before dropping to No. 2 then No. 6 after a tie and a loss, respectively. Though the Chicago win only bumped them narrowly to No. 5, Wash. U. enters this year’s tournament in strong position.
While the top seven features three undefeated teams, none are in Wash. U.’s quarter of the bracket. At the bottom of the top 10 are Trinity University and Messiah College, who were No. 2 and No. 1, respectively, when the Bears advanced past them in the past two tournaments. The Red and Green’s toughest potential game before the semifinals is a rematch with the Maroons. Though the rivalry is always heated, the Bears have now won seven straight against Chicago, outscoring them 11-2.
Should the Bears advance to a third consecutive Final Four, they’ll return to a familiar environment, more battle-tested than ever. Getting there means going through at least one team that hasn’t lost yet.
Last year’s run started with 19-0-1 Knox College, which Wash. U. beat handily, 3-0. This time, 17-0-4 Dominican University is first up. The Stars, who also won their conference, will be hungry to prove themselves in their first ever tournament appearance.
Wash. U.’s key to advancing will be to nullify one particular star—sophomore Josseline Williams, her conference’s Offensive Player of the Year. Williams produced an extraordinary 31 goals, the second-most in DIII, and a DIII-tops nine game-winners. For context, sophomore forward Taylor Cohen led the Bears in all both categories—with 13 and four, respectively.
If the Bears manage to fend off Williams and the Stars, they’ll host the winner of Thomas More College and Wittenberg University in the second round Sunday at 7 p.m. Both are conference champions and like Dominican, both will be hungry for tournament glory.
Wittenberg is in the dance for the first time since 2009. At 17-0-4, taking on the Tigers would require Wash. U. to hand a third straight team its first loss of the season.
The Saints, meanwhile, seek redemption on two fronts. Despite starting 21-0-1, Thomas More saw an early playoff exit in 2016, getting ousted by Chicago in the third round. This year, the Saints were a preseason favorite at No. 9, but fell out of the top 25 after suffering a trio of early losses. They’ve been hot since, however, going 11-1 with a 23-5 goal differential down the stretch.
While the Bears are happy to play things out on their home turf, it’s notable that their missteps have come on the corner of Forsyth and Big Bend. Their sole loss came to now-No. 8 Carnegie Mellon University on Senior Day, and their only tie and double-goal letup came to now-No. 18 Wheaton College; their only other home goal allowed was to Pomona-Pitzer.
Still, the Bears are confident as the new championship season gets underway, and for good reason. After all, they are the team to beat.