‘Cats finish season on high note

Kaitlin Santanna

The women’s soccer team finished their illustrious 2006 regular season with a convincing win last Sunday afternoon. After their first regulation loss against No. 1 ranked Notre Dame on Friday, the Wildcats bounced back to finish off the season with a 3-0 win over DePaul University. Erin Byrnes posted a three-point weekend on the road for Villanova, polishing off the team’s record-setting season.

A season-high crowd braved the blustery conditions to watch the Wildcats open their weekend contest against fellow top-defensive team, Notre Dame. The game was slated to be one focused on defense since each squad only allowed three goals all season long. The first half reflected this, as Notre Dame posted the only goal of the half 9:07 into the match.

Despite being down at the half for the first time all season, Villanova’s Erin Byrnes evened up the score with a goal just over three minutes into the second half. However, the nearly perfect Wildcat defense experienced a momentary lapse after the tying goal, allowing three unanswered Notre Dame goals in 20 minutes of play. Byrnes scored off a pass from Kayce Blandford with less than a minute of play remaining in the first multi-goal game of her career. However, the Fighting Irish still came away victorious and proved why they are the No. 1 team in the division.

Byrnes’s two goals for the day brought her season total up to five, good for second best on the team this season. Goalkeeper Jillian Loyden was forced to make all six of her saves in the second half en route to her second loss of the year. Both Notre Dame and Villanova allowed goals in opposite halves for the first time. The Wildcats had never before allowed a first half goal, while Friday’s game was the first time the Irish had allowed a second half tally.

The Wildcats took the lessons they learned Friday and returned to their old form for Senior Day Sunday against DePaul. This final day of regular season play would lead to the solidification of the Big East rankings later in the evening.

The ‘Cats came out firing, outshooting the Blue Demons 17-6 in the first half. Villanova’s first two goals of the game came just 51 seconds apart. Byrnes found herself on the scoresheet for the third time in two days, assisting Nicole Coia’s third goal of the season just over five minutes into the match. Villanova continued its domination of the offensive end throughout the half. Under a minute after Coia’s mark, Erin Hardiman found junior Melissa Murowski, who netted the second goal of the game.

While DePaul countered with several offensive chances of their own, the Wildcat defense was up to the task. The unit held the Blue Demons to just four shots in the half and ten shots on the day. Villanova’s third and final goal of the game involved two of the seniors in their final regular season game. Senior Athena Yiantsos scored her second goal of the season off a pass from classmate Valerie Grow with 1:37 remaining in the game. Blandford picked up the second assist on the goal, marking her sixth for the season and the team high.

Loyden made five saves in her 11th solo shutout of the season. Along with Yiantsos and Grow, forwards Megan Farmer and Lindsey Finnegan were also honored in the Senior Day game.

Villanova enters the Big East playoffs with an impressive record-setting season. The Wildats set a new record for consecutive unbeaten games with 15 and tied the 15-game record for most games won in a season. They fell one short of the record for the most shutouts, which was set at 16 games three years ago. The team’s 7-2-2 Big East record marks the most conference wins in a season as well. The team has outscored their opponents 34-7 overall and 15-1 in the first half.

The Wildcats finish the season ranked No. 3 in the National Division of the Big East conference. This ranking earns the squad a bye into the quarterfinals, slated to be played Sunday afternoon against Marquette University. Marquette’s No. 2 ranking in the American Division grants them home field advantage. The 2 p.m. start will mark the first game played between the two teams since Marquette’s transfer to the Big East Conference from Conference USA. The winner of this match-up will move on to the semifinals, scheduled to be played at the University of Connecticut’s campus.

End of season notes: Loyden ended the season with over 1,700 minutes of play, a .36 goals-against average and .924 save percentage … Nikki Mabery leads the team in scoring with 11 goals and three assists … The Wildcats carry into Sunday’s match two consecutive quarterfinal wins in 2003 and 2004, with a 2-2 quarterfinal record overall … The five national division playoff qualifying teams were 12-4-4 against their American division counterparts in the regular season…Villanova is 6-0-0 against Conference USA newcomers to the Big East.