Women’s soccer sails through opening rounds of playoffs
This season, it has been rare to see someone other than junior keeper Emma Greenfield protecting the Washington University goal. For most teams, seeing the backup goalkeeper in front of the goal with ten minutes to play usually means one of two things: the team has been doing either very well or very poorly.
For the Washington University women’s soccer team on Saturday, seeing freshman Katie Stender-Moore in goal was an instance of the former. Her presence was a testament to the Bears’ early success in their NCAA tournament first round match against Maryville College, a sign of how Wash. U. had coasted through the game to an overpowering victory, 4-0.
After beating Maryville, the Bears kept fighting for more on Sunday, beating Adrian College, 2-0, to advance to the Sweet 16, the third round of the NCAA playoffs. Wash. U. was dominant throughout the weekend, outshooting its two opponents by a combined 63-10 and allowing just five shots on goal.
Stender-Moore found herself in goal because the Bears had jumped out to an early lead against Maryville. The Scots mounted a strong attack on their initial possession, pushing deep into Bears’ territory, but before even ten minutes had passed, Wash. U. had scored twice and established commanding control over the game. Sophomore Ariana Miles opened the scoring in the eighth minute when she sent a ball into the corner of the goal from close inside the box. It was Miles’ seventh goal of the season and it opened the floodgates.
Senior Taylor Cohen, who led the University Athletic Association during the regular season with 79 shots, added her tenth goal of the year just over a minute later. She broke through the Scots’ back line before beating the Maryville keeper 1-on-1. Both of the first two goals were unassisted, with Miles and Cohen creating opportunities for themselves before finding the back of the net.
“Miles and Cohen did a nice job of setting the tone for us up top,” head coach Jim Conlon said after the game. “Our women came in locked and focused. I thought they did a good job from the opening whistle.”
The Bears did not let up after the first two goals. They got off four shots in a six-minute stretch midway through the first half, forcing the Maryville keeper to make two saves within 50 seconds, and added two more goals before halftime, the first when junior Ellie DeConinck found the back of the net after a cross from Miles and the second on a give and go from sophomore Kally Wendler to sophomore Marissa Kalkar. The assist was Wendler’s first career point.
That was the end of Saturday’s scoring for the Bears. They kept Maryville away from the goal and kept attacking, however, forcing six saves in the second half. The wide lead allowed Conlon to rest some starters in the waning minutes of the game and let younger players get in on the action.
Sunday’s game was more balanced, with the Bulldogs able to hold off the Bears for more than a half hour at the start of the game. An early Wash. U. shot attempt went into the goal but was called back when the referees whistled sophomore Erin Flynn offside. The Bears had plenty of opportunities early on, like when DeConinck found Cohen in front of the goal with Miles sprinting in from the right side, but Cohen’s pass for Miles was too hard and the Adrian keeper collected it before Wash. U. could finish the shot.
Sophomore Gabbie Cesarone was instrumental on both ends of the field. She intercepted multiple passes simply by sticking out a foot, a move that observers in the crowd likened to a tip stop in hockey. Then, in the 35th minute, an Adrian foul gave Wash. U. a free kick. DeConinck slid the ball hard through traffic to find Cesarone cutting in toward the goal and Cesarone tapped it in, putting the Bears ahead for good.
“You kind of get to know the type of players that are on the field. Ellie D, you know is going to get over the ball and strike it hard, so once we saw that space she and I locked eyes,” Cesarone said. “I just came across and luckily just barely got a foot on it.”
Things were quiet again for the rest of the first half. The two teams combined got off just one shot in the final ten minutes, and the Bears took a 1-0 lead into halftime.
The Bears added their second goal in the 67th minute when junior Ellie Moreland hurried the ball down the right wing, juked an Adrian defender and delivered a long shot that ricocheted off the left post. Chaos ensued in the box before Cohen tapped the ball back to freshman Riley Alvarez, who shoved the ball into the back of the net for her first career goal.
The Wash. U. defense was stifling throughout. Adrian got off just three shots in the afternoon, two of which came on a single sequence in the first half: Greenfield made her one save of the day on a hard ball at the edge of the box, getting knocked down; Bulldogs’ star forward Caroline Fleming recovered a rebound and sent in another shot, but Wash. U. was able to clear it and breathe easy yet again. Adrian’s only other main opportunity had come earlier in the first half, when a Bulldog broke through the Wash. U. back line. Greenfield had come out of goal to defend, though, and slide-tackled the attacker to prevent the goal.
“That slide-tackle was big,” Conlon said. “She just trusted her instincts.”
“I was proud of our women for fighting and battling and finding the back of the net twice today,” Conlon told Bears broadcaster Jay Mury after the game. “It was important to get the win.”
Next up for Wash. U. is the Sweet 16. The Bears will face the winner of Sunday night’s California Lutheran vs. Claremont-Mudd-Scripps matchup next weekend.