#3 women’s soccer preserves clean-sheet streak, defeats #25 Emory 2-0

and | Sports Editors

Nine games into its season, the Washington University women’s soccer team is the sole exception: college soccer’s only clean sheet. (Clara Richards | Student Life)

There are 1,893 NCAA men’s and women’s soccer teams. All but one of them have conceded a goal over the last two months. Nine games into its season, the Washington University women’s soccer team is the sole exception: college soccer’s only clean sheet. 

On Sunday, the Bears, who are ranked third in Division III, faced the toughest threat to their undefeated start to the season when #15 Emory University visited St. Louis. In the 74th minute of the battle between UAA heavyweights, the Bears’ shutout streak appeared to come to an end.

When a pass was played into the WashU box, senior goalkeeper Sidney Connor came off her line to try to intercept it, but an Emory forward was able to flick it past her into the goal. As soon as the ball hit the net, however, the linesman’s offside flag shot into the air, and the goal was quickly waved off, much to the delight of the sizable WashU crowd.

 Fifteen minutes later, when the referee blew the final whistle, the Bears were on top of their conference rivals with a 2-0 victory, extending their shutout streak to 720 minutes and their record to 8-0-0.

But perhaps more importantly, it gave them a 1-0 start to University Athletic Association (UAA) conference play. WashU has won or tied for eight out of the last 10 conference titles but lost out on the crown last season for the first time since 2014. Yet again this season, the UAA is the strongest conference in women’s soccer and has six out of eight teams ranked in the Division III Top 25, including #1 Carnegie Mellon University, which also remains undefeated. 

Going into the game, the Bears knew that they would need a strong performance to hold off the Eagles. Last season, Emory won the matchup 3-0 and made a run to the NCAA Round of 16. However, despite facing their strongest opponents yet, the squad entered the match “confident in their preparation,” according to head coach Jim Conlon.

 “September taught us a lot of lessons, [so] we were able to continue to try and get better as a team and get a really good result against the very talented Emory team,” he said after the match.

The Bears started the game off on the front foot. Just five minutes into the contest, first-year Sophie Viscovich played a pass to sophomore forward Ella Koleno on the top-left corner of the box. With the ball at her feet, Koleno calmly finished the movement, chipping the ball over the goalkeeper’s head and into the net for an early 1-0 lead. After the strike, which was Koleno’s third time on the scoresheet this season, the Bears never looked back.

WashU doubled their lead in the 35th minute. Junior midfielder Sara Giannotti slotted a through ball into the left side of the box for first-year Regan Cannon. Cannon lofted the ball into the air, and just like the first goal, the goaltender could only watch as the sphere sailed over her outstretched arms. As the ball crossed the line, the scoreboard changed to 2-0, and Cannon tallied her first career collegiate goal. 

“It started with a really awesome double-team with [midfielders graduate student] Sam [McKibben] and [senior midfielder] Jess [Greven], and they won the ball back,” Cannon said after the game. “Sara [Giannotti] in the midfield found a great opening run…played a perfect ball, found me on the run, and then I just kind of saw an opening over the keeper and went for it.”

Though the visiting Eagles went into the halftime break trailing by two goals, they came out of the intermission looking to respond. However, the Bears kept the pressure up, tallying eight shots on-target in the second period, including a 49th-minute header from junior midfielder Gaelen Clayton that forced a sprawling save from the Emory keeper. 

Junior midfielder Gaelen Clayton in action in Tuesday’s matchup against Webster University. (Clara Richards | Student Life)

As the clock wound down, the Eagles attempted to mount a comeback. When the ball hit the net in the 74th minute, they appeared to be right back in the game, but the offside flag dampened their hopes of a resurgence. Over the course of the second half, the WashU backline proved that they were up to the test of the attacking Eagles. Senior goalkeeper Connor had her busiest day of the season, making a season-high five saves. 

When asked about his squad’s defense, Conlon accredited it with the team’s effort. “I think they’re just working well off each other. I think they know what each other’s gifts are and are playing to their strengths,” he said.

Cannon agreed, stating that “everybody has their role on the team, and it’s up to you to fulfill that role. I think we’ve done that this game — we’ve done that all season. People are giving everything [they’ve] got, making certain tackles and slides on defense…really just doing their jobs and working for each other on the field.”

One key strength in the defense has been the play of center-back graduate transfer Ally Hackett, who came to WashU after two seasons at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro. Hackett joined Connor as the only Bears to play all 90 minutes on Sunday, an impressive feat in the 85º Missouri heat. The center-back has been everywhere for the Bears, making a number of key plays once again in Sunday’s win.

Though the Bears have national aspirations, they have their eyes set on the UAA at the moment.

“[You’ve] got to win the conference if you want to give yourself a chance at something bigger. So for us, I think we’re just taking it one step at a time right now,” Conlon said after the victory.

Women’s soccer celebrates a team goal. (Clara Richards | Student Life)

Cannon echoed Conlon’s message after the game. “We’re trusting the process, and we’re seeing the results of that — and just, of course, everybody was so excited about the win, but also just wanting to use that momentum to keep moving forward.” 

 The next steps for the Bears include welcoming #18 Brandeis University to St. Louis for the next leg of their UAA journey. The squad will end the weekend with its second game in two days, traveling down Big Bend Boulevard to take on neighbor Fontbonne University on Sunday.

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