Women’s soccer ends six-win streak with fall against Wheaton

| Contributing Reporter

A solid game plan, proper adjustments, and strong team effort put the No. 3 Washington University women’s soccer team in position to take out national No. 1 and familiar Bears’ foe Wheaton College Saturday at Francis Field. But missed opportunities and one Wheaton shot that found the back of the net led to a 1-0 overtime loss.

The Bears and the Thunder entered the game with matching 6-0 records to start the season. In what proved to be a thrilling game from start to finish, the Bears seemed to let Wheaton work its way up the field and control the ball in the first half, using a bend-but-don’t-break style defense to stifle the Thunder’s imposing attack.

“We talked before the game about dropping our outside [midfielders] back,” junior forward Lillie Toaspern said. “We tried to make them make decisions, and they were kind of confused when we did that.”

Wheaton closed the opening half with a 10-7 shot advantage and a 7-1 corner kick advantage, yet none of their shots really forced Wash. U. into uncomfortable positions.

“We made all of their shots predictable for [sophomore goalkeeper] Amy French,” Toaspern said. “The defense didn’t really let anything behind them and get too dangerous.”

As the game moved along, however, the Bears began to take more chances and apply additional pressure onto Wheaton’s back line.

“It looked like they were in more of the attack [in the first half], but we just wanted to play good team defense,” head coach Jim Conlon said. “We didn’t want to stretch the game too early. The stats might show them having more shots, but none of them were truly dangerous. As the game went on, we clearly started turning that tide.”

The last 25 minutes of regulation exemplified this shift, as Wash. U.’s attack had many opportunities for a goal, and its defense denied Wheaton a single shot attempt. To close regulation, Wash. U. had taken back the shot advantage by a slim 16-15 margin with nine shots in the second half to Wheaton’s five. Unfortunately for the Bears, not a single one of their own shots found the back of Wheaton’s net, and the contest headed into overtime.

“We made a couple adjustments, shifted a few numbers forward while still playing good team defense,” Conlon said. “With as many goals as we have scored this season, our attack has been very good this year. They just tried combining with each other but they couldn’t put that final pop into the net.”

The Bears were not without chances during regulation and in the opening minutes of overtime. Toaspern had only the Wheaton goalkeeper to beat on her way to two possible goals. First, her shot trickled wide right, and the second time around, a pass from junior forward Anna Zambricki was just out of her reach.

“We were in really good shape towards the end of the game because they were starting to wear down, and we were using quick one-two combinations to get our girls open,” Toaspern said. “We had a lot of opportunities, and we think on any other day a couple of those would go in for us.”

The Red and Green were the aggressors to open the first overtime period, which featured a Toaspern header that deflected right into the Wheaton goalkeeper’s arms. Eight minutes into the heated first overtime period, Wheaton senior All-American Leah DeMoss knocked the ball from about 24 yards out into the top right corner of the net past sophomore goalkeeper Amy French, immediately ending the game and giving the Thunder a victory.

“Whether it’s overtime or regulation, those are two really good teams playing soccer and unfortunately one of them lost,” Conlon said. “I thought the whole team played a great game. They did everything we asked them to do, everything they were supposed to do.”

French had yet to allow a goal this season, but in the blink of an eye Wash. U.‘s streak of six straight shutouts combined with prolific goal scoring came to an end. Additionally, Wheaton extended its winning streak against the Bears to six. In just the past four losses to the Thunder, including this weekend’s defeat, Wash. U. has let Wheaton score a combined 12 goals, surpassing the cumulative total of all other teams the Bears have played during that time span (11 goals in 26 games).

“It’s one game—we’ll get better by next game,” Conlon said he told his players after the game. “One game at a time, regardless of the result.”

Several factors made this game quite emotional and anxiety-provoking for the Bears and their fans in attendance: the rivalry between Wheaton and Wash. U. over the past few years, the closeness of an overtime game, and the Bears’ impressive shutout and win streaks. Despite all of this, players and coaches still preached an attitude of patience and perspective.

“We didn’t lose the [University Athletic Association] title, and we didn’t lose a chance at the playoffs because of this one game,” Toaspern added. “We feel like we deserved the win, but we still feel pretty positive about the game and how we played.”

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