Defense carries women’s soccer back to Sweet 16
Defense has been the calling card this season for the Washington University women’s soccer team and that was true yet again this weekend, as the Bears advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament on the strength of two shutout victories, 4-0 over Beloit College Saturday and 1-0 over Dominican University Sunday.
The Bears, who now have 11 shutouts on the year, will face the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse next Saturday.
“That whole back line is probably one of the best in the country,” head coach Stephanie Gabbert said of the WashU defenders.
On Saturday, the Bears jumped out to a quick start against Beloit, scoring three goals in the first 18 minutes. After senior Erin Flynn opened the scoring with a goal in the fifth minute (her team-leading sixth goal of the season), senior Gabbie Cesarone followed it up with two of her own to quickly put the Bears up 3-0. Both of Cesarone’s goals came off corner kicks, with the first being a header to the back post and the second coming off a deflection from senior Jess Shapiro. The goals were the first two on the season for Cesarone, who primarily plays defense.
“She’s hungry to score,” Gabbert said. “She likes to score, so I’m glad she’s gotten a few of those out of her system.”
In a dominant performance, WashU added one more goal in the second half, courtesy of junior Sydney Essler.
As a further testament to WashU’s defensive prowess, Beloit failed to register a single shot or corner kick in 90 minutes of action, and the ball rarely even crossed into WashU territory. By completely controlling the game, WashU was able to rest many players in the second half, gaining an important advantage for Sunday’s second round contest.
Sunday’s game against Dominican University was more balanced, with an uneventful and scoreless first half. However, Dominican was constantly on the defensive, and WashU’s relentless attack finally broke through in the 68th minute; a strong Essler throw-in coupled with junior Riley Alvarez’s causing havoc in the box resulted in an own goal by Dominican, putting the Bears up 1-0. Gabbert was proud of Alvarez’s effort on the play.
“I think it was just great of her to stay stuck in there and get a toe on it,” Gabbert said. “Whatever it took to get the ball in the goal.”
Despite only winning 1-0, the Bears dominated the shot chart, outshooting Dominican 16-2. Those were the only two shots sophomore goalie Sidney Conner saw all weekend.
“Sid’s always great in the back, and I know she didn’t get a ton of shots this weekend, but she does a lot behind the ball to help us organize and that makes a big difference,” Gabbert said.
After the regular season finale against Chicago, Gabbert emphasized that finishing scoring opportunities would be key for the Bears. Despite scoring four goals in the first round, converting on scoring chances was still a concern against Dominican.
“The main thing for our team right now is not missing really good opportunities because we’re not composed,” Gabbert said.
The win clinched the Bears’ sixth straight Sweet 16 appearance (the tournament was cancelled in 2020). Gabbert hopes that the team will play with a quicker pace going forward, which she said could help open up more scoring opportunities against teams like UW-La Crosse.
“The teams we’re going to meet in the next round are going to be better than the teams we met in this round, so we’re gonna have to play smarter and take advantage of our opportunities a lot more,” she said.
The secrets to WashU’s success: