Women’s soccer knocked out by No. 15 UW-La Crosse, 2-1

| Senior Sports Editor

This time, there was no miracle.Fans of the Washington University women’s soccer team waited patiently for the seemingly inevitable last-minute game-tying goal. This time, it never came. Now, for another 12 days, the Bears remain defending champions but are no longer defending their championship.

The No. 5 Red and Green entered the Sectional Semifinal at Stagg Field in Chicago as favorites over No. 15 University of Wisconsin-La Crosse (UWL). But NCAA Tournament play is unlike any other. Rankings and records are thrown out, and each team gets 90 minutes to prove it deserves another 90. Friday afternoon, after nearly 50 minutes featuring a relatively harmless lack of scoring, the Eagles put the Bears on notice with a go-ahead goal: Score in the next 40 minutes, or there will be no game Saturday, or for the next 40 Saturdays.

Junior forward Jessica Ridderhoff charges past Wittenberg University Sunday, Nov. 12 in the Bears’ 1-0 victory. The women’s soccer team lost in the Sweet 16 Friday, Nov. 17, but the Red and Green  made it all the way in 2016, winning the NCAA Division III national championship.Brennan Noailles | Student Life

Junior forward Jessica Ridderhoff charges past Wittenberg University Sunday, Nov. 12 in the Bears’ 1-0 victory. The women’s soccer team lost in the Sweet 16 Friday, Nov. 17, but the Red and Green made it all the way in 2016, winning the NCAA Division III national championship.

It seemed like a task fit for a team that had come through when needed, time after time. After all, just two weeks earlier, Wash. U. had thwarted No. 1 University of Chicago with two 68th-minute goals, and a week earlier, they had avoided a second-round overtime by scoring with three minutes left.

According to head coach Jim Conlon, UWL’s goal led to a shift in strategy—getting more aggressive offensively and counting on two backs, junior Hannah Menard and senior Kelly Von Zup, to keep the Eagle attack in check.

“When they got their goal, we weren’t going to leave anything behind us,” Conlon said in the postgame press conference. “We were going to leave it on the field. And so, we pushed a lot of numbers forward, left [Menard and Von Zup] on a big island.”

So, the crowd wrapped in red and green held its breath and sat tight, awaiting, expecting that 11th-hour delivery. With 40 minutes to go, then 30 minutes to go, then 20 minutes to go, Wash. U. ventured farther into unfamiliar territory, elimination impending. But it still felt less like time was running out and more like the clock was moving towards that thrilling moment.

And then, with 10 minutes to go, the gut punch: an Eagle score, 2-0. Wash. U. was now in unknown territory, down two goals for the first time all season.

But the Bears would not let it be the dagger. Just 55 seconds later, they scored one of their signature, improbable yet highly unsurprising goals, a beautiful 30-yard strike by Menard, just her second of the year. Finally on the board, the goal revitalized the belief that the Red and Green had one more comeback in them.

Women’s soccer celebrates after freshman Katy Mockett scores against Dominican College Saturday, Nov. 11. Following a loss to No. 15 University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, the Bears concluded their season, finishing with a 17-2-1 record for the 2017 season.Brennan Noailles | Student Life

Women’s soccer celebrates after freshman Katy Mockett scores against Dominican College Saturday, Nov. 11. Following a loss to No. 15 University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, the Bears concluded their season, finishing with a 17-2-1 record for the 2017 season.

The Eagles, though, would not allow it. UWL executed perfectly down the stretch, frustrating Wash. U. by maintaining possession in the Red and Green half. With just over 30 seconds remaining, the Bears forced one desperate chance near the UWL goal, but the ball was deflected out. The Eagles diverted the ensuing corner kick, and just like that, time was up on Wash. U.’s season.

“We did have a chance to tie it up,” Conlon said. “But La Crosse was very organized, and they did not make that mistake, so to speak, in the back. They never gave us a chance to capitalize on a mistake.”

It was an unsatisfying way to go out for the Bears, who took more shots than the Eagles in each half. In particular, the inability to take advantage of five corner kicks in the first half came back to bite the Bears.

Of course, only one playoff team can finish with a win, a fact Wash. U. knows well. This year, it’s one of the 63 whose season ended with a loss. But even with 10 seniors graduating, the Bears will return a strong core, including eight of 11 players who started double-digit games and stand as good a chance as any team of returning to the pinnacle in 2018.