Wildcats’ season ends in NCAAs second round

Kaitlin Santana

Although the weekend started with sunshine and spring-like weather, rain clouds and gusty winds plagued the Sunday skies of Penn State University in University Park, Pa. The results of the women’s soccer team followed the weather. After a convincing 5-1 first round win over Toledo on Friday, host Penn State eliminated Villanova in the second round of the NCAA tournament, ending its illustrious, record-setting season.

The Wildcats opened their game versus the University of Toledo Rockets in typical Villanova fashion. The defensive core kept Toledo scoring opportunities to a minimum, while the offense came out with several early scoring chances. Villanova’s first successful opportunity came just over 12 minutes into the game. Kayce Blandford continued to produce her perfectly-placed corner kicks throughout the match. After Blandford put the ball into play, Kelley Eagan headed it into traffic in front of the net. The ball found junior Jenna Gordon, who netted her first career goal.

Villanova’s second goal of the contest came four minutes later. After Kaley Guthrie gained possession of the ball in the box, she crossed it to sophomore Erin Hardiman, who blasted a shot into the right side of the net. The ‘Cats continued to move the ball well through the Toledo defense and maintained possession of play throughout the first half, holding the Rockets without a shot within the first 20 minutes of play.

After leading the nation in scoring during the first month of this season, junior Nikki Mabery went eight games without a goal. In Friday’s match, however, Mabery’s drought ended with a downpour. After converting on another Blandford corner kick late in the first half, Mabery scored her first of the game. Following a series of give-and-go passes between Erin Byrnes, Jessica Carnevale and Mabery, the latter finished the play and produced her third multi-goal game of the season less than 11 minutes into the second half.

The Wildcats continued to ride the offensive momentum for the rest of the game. Villanova’s fifth and final goal came in the 77th minute of play off of another corner kick. After Stacia Hartung settled the ball, senior Megan Farmer found the back of the net. Although Toledo scored their first of the game with less than two minutes remaining in the match, the ‘Cats proved to be too much for the Rockets.

Villanova’s second-round opponent was host Penn State on Sunday afternoon. Penn State is ranked No. 2 in Villanova’s quarter of the draw and carried a No. 9 RPI ranking into the match, compared to the Wildcats’ No. 19 RPI ranking.

While the Wildcats outshone the Nittany Lions in the first half on Friday evening, the tables were turned in the match against the Nittany Lions. Penn State scored twice in the first half and gained the game’s early momentum. Although the Wildcats showed much heart, enthusiasm and an improvement in play throughout the second half, Villanova was not able to gain any offense on Penn State to advance to the Sweet 16.

Despite the season’s untimely end, the team has accomplished much over the season, especially since many pinned 2006 as a rebuilding season. Although the team returned only one defender from 2005, the Wildcats boasted one of the top defensives in the nation, proving themselves capable of competing with some of the best teams. The Wildcats allowed just 11 goals all season long, the fewest Villanova has allowed in one season in team history. After the team’s first round win against Toledo, Villanova set a new program record for most wins

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in a season, outdoing the 2003 squad’s 15 victories. The 2006 team has also set records for the best start in team history (13-0-2), most consecutive shutouts at the beginning of a season (seven games at 769:52 min) and most conference wins (7).

Although losing one of the most successful senior classes in university history with Farmer, Valerie Grow, Lindsey Finnegan and Athena Yiantsos graduating, the rest of the 2006 team will return next season. These returning members include two-time Goalkeeper of the Year Jillian Loyden, the team’s leading scorer Mabery, four teammates including Loyden named to Big East All-Conference teams and sophomore Nicole Coia, who was named to the Division II All-Academic Team. In total, 14 players have received weekly Big East honors this season, all of whom are returning next season. This season also saw the collegiate debut of several freshmen who contributed greatly to the high level of play.

This illustrious season, combined with another expertly recruited incoming class, seems to already be setting up the framework for another competitive Villanova women’s soccer squad in 2007.