Women’s soccer outlasts Wittenberg
Last-minute game-winning goal by Taylor Cohen sends team to Sweet 16
For a long time Sunday night at Francis Field, it seemed like it just would never happen for the Washington University women’s soccer team. Try as they might, the Bears could not crack a tough Wittenberg University defense, and as the clock approached 90 minutes, the NCAA tournament second round appeared destined for overtime.
Head coach Jim Conlon, for one, was not too worried about the stalemate or the prospect of sudden death.
“Wittenberg was a great, organized team,” he said. “But we knew we could possess the ball and keep playing the way we were capable of playing.”
Conlon and his team were eventually rewarded for their patience, but they did not leave much time to spare. In the 88th the ball fell to the feet of a Wittenberg defender in the penalty area. Before she could clear it however, she was closed down by Wash. U. junior forward Jessica Ridderhoff.
Ridderhoff put her body between the defender and the ball and played it to open space, where who else but sophomore Taylor Cohen, Wash. U.’s most dependable scorer, was waiting to slot home from five yards out.
While the Wash. U. players all mobbed Cohen, Conlon did not allow himself too much of a celebration. It was time to shut up shop.
“As soon as we scored that goal, I honestly looked at the bench, to make sure we were in our defensive set to make sure we locked down the win,” he said.
Conlon brought on senior Rachel Mickelson for Cohen to help close out the game, and two minutes later the final whistle blew and the Bears were through to the third round of the tournament.
In the first round the evening before, Wash. U. came up against Dominican University, a team riding high after an undefeated season earned the program its first-ever bid to the NCAA tournament. The Bears were tasked with shutting down Josseline Williams, one of the most dominant strikers in Division III, who knocked in 31 goals on the season.
Wash. U.’s approach to handling Williams was to make sure the Stars did not have the ball enough to create an opportunity. The Bears went on the attack early and often, and got their reward in the 15th minute, as Cohen got her head to a junior Darcy Cunningham corner to open the scoring.
From there, the Bears only applied more pressure. The Dominican backline struggled to cope with the pace of the Wash. U. attack. In particular the combination of Cohen and senior Mariana Alisio up top caused nightmares for the Stars’ defenders.
Five minutes before halftime, it was Alisio’s pace that caused the game’s pivotal moment. Just two minutes after she had narrowly missed a breakaway chance, Alisio chased down a seemingly hopeless ball. Defender Kaitlyn Tripp attempted to shepherd the ball back to her goalie, but misjudged the defense and Alisio got between her and the ball. Faced with the prospect of letting the Wash. U. forward through on goal, Tripp wrestled Alisio to the ground a few yards inside the penalty area. Tripp was sent off, and the Bears were awarded a penalty kick.
Junior midfielder Jessica Kovach stepped up to take the spot kick, but goalkeeper Abbey Brown guessed the right way and kept her team in the game. But Dominican was down to 10 against an already-dominant Wash. U. team, and it was only a matter of time before the pressure built up again.
The Bears got their two-goal cushion with just seconds left in the half. Freshman Katy Mockett collected the ball on the left wing and ran at her defender. On the edge of the penalty area, she created some space for a left-footed cross with a couple of step overs. The cross, however, hooked towards the goal and sailed over Brown and into the far corner.
Both Mockett and Alisio, two of the players who most influenced the first half, came off the bench, a hallmark of Conlon’s frequent in-game squad rotations.
“Our depth is great,” he said. “Each woman brings different gifts to the field. So we’re just trying to put the right women in there to be productive with what we’re trying to do.”
With a 2-0 halftime lead, there was no looking back for Wash. U. Cohen got her second goal of the match in the 60th minute, tapping in a low ball played across the box by Cunningham.
Seven minutes later, the game was firmly out of reach when freshman Ellie DeConinck scored her 10th goal of the year, deflecting the ball into the net after a curled cross from junior Caroline Dempsey was knocked down in the box by sophomore Jesse Rubin. Isabelle Tamburro finished out the rout at 5-0, off an assist by Alisio.
Sunday’s game, however, would prove to be a much more defensive affair. Wittenberg set out to slow down the quickness of the Wash. U. attack, and the Bears struggled to break down the Tigers’ defensive shell.
Though much of the first half was played in Wittenberg’s half they looked dangerous on the counterattack, and they had the most clear cut scoring chance of the first half. Forward Leah Soutar collected a bouncing cross in the box, and cut the ball onto her right foot. Her low shot to the near post was parried away by freshman goalkeeper Emma Greenfield.
Wash. U. was unable to conjure up much in the way of clear cut opportunities in the first half, with the Tigers able to repel crosses and block any shots aside from a few speculative shots from distance.
As the second half went on, the game got increasingly rambunctious, with two Wash. U. players and one Wittenberg player picking up yellow cards. Wash. U., however, were able to sustain possession, and eventually the pressure started to create chances.
Ridderhoff almost pounced on a bobbled rebound from junior Maggie Crist drive in the 71st minute. A few minutes later, Cohen found herself wide open in the box off a knockdown header, but was flagged offsides. A few minutes after that, however, the flag stayed down and Cohen celebrated her 16th goal of the season.
The Bears’ national title defense continues next Friday in the round of 16 against the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. If they win there, they will more than likely square off in the regional final against conference rival University of Chicago, with a third-straight Final Four trip on the line.
Additional reporting by Dorian DeBose