Not even rain can stop the ‘Cats defense

Kaitlin Santana

By Kaitlin Santanna

staff reporter

Although clouds of rain hovered over both of the Villanova women’s soccer opening home games, the team’s outcome could not have been brighter.  After shutting out their first opponent on the road, the Wildcats returned home to extend both their winning and shut-out streak to over 135 minutes of play.

Villanova opened the 2006 season on the road against La Salle Friday night.  Senior Lindsey Finnegan scored the only goal of the night off a free kick from Nikki Mabery and Kayce Blandford 26:66 into the match.  A strong defensive effort and stellar performance from Jillian Loyden in goal prevented any offensive success from theExplorers.  The match marked the sixth consecutive season opening victory for the Wildcats.

Villanova’s home opener came Sunday afternoon at the West Campus Soccer Complex against the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights.  The Wildcats dominated the game from the opening whistle, unleashing a string of shots early in the match on the Fairleigh Dickinson goal. Two shots rang off of the goalpost in the first seven minutes of the game, while several more shots veered just wide of the goal. Villanova’s offensive onslaught paid off in the 22nd minute when junior Melissa Murowski launched a shot from the top of the box over the Knights’ goalkeeper’s head.  The tally was Murowski’s second careergoal and her first game winning goal.

Villanova would add one more tally to their score before entering halftime.  With only 41 seconds remaining, an unsettled corner kick taken by Kaley Guthrie led to Nicole Coia scoring her first goal of the season.  Valerie Grow was also awarded an assist on the play.

The offensive ambush by ‘Nova continued into the second half.  The ‘cats came out dominating, scoring their third goal of the game just under three minutes into the second half.  Guthrie fought her way up the field with the ball before providing a perfect cross to freshman Grace Hawkins.  Hawkins’ stellar performance was rewarded with her first collegiate goal 2:59 into the second half.

 A strong Villanovan defense kept the ball in the offensive end for much of the game.  Villanova’s fourth and final goal of the game came with 7:06 remaining.  The play began off of a short ‘Nova corner kick, resulting in a give and go play started by Finnegan.  Mabery finished the play by heading a Finnegan cross into the net.

The home opener saw the debut of four freshman players. Erin Byrnes, Kelly Eagan and Samantha Moskal started the game, the first time in seven years that more than two true freshmen were on the field for the opening game of the season.    Freshmen Jessica Carnevale and Heidi Boersma also saw their first minutes of playing time throughout the match, and Leann Kania made her Villanova debut, relieving Loyden in goal halfway through the second stanza.  Head coach Ann Clifton believes the incorporation of the freshmen into the lineup early in the season will allow the starting forwards and goalkeeper to remain healthy late in the season.

The fervent defensive effort by the Wildcats was recognized by the Big East, as Blandford was awarded Big East Defensive Player of the Week, and Loyden was a member of the conference’s weekly honor roll.

Uncooperative weather once again threatened Villanova’s second home start against George Washington (0-1) Tuesday afternoon, marking ‘Nova’s third start in six days.  Despite the looming storm clouds, the two teams battled hard throughout the first half.  The Wildcats posted the first shot of the match, but the game’s first two scoring chances came from George Washington just four minutes apart. Both teams had close calls at each end of the field as well as many possession changes.  Despite this, it was Villanova who netted the first and only goal of the half.  An unsettled ball in the offensive end led to a beautiful shot into the upper right hand corner of the goal off the foot of Mabery.

The game was moved up an hour and an abbreviated halftime was put into effect to in an attempt to avoid severe thunderstorms, however rain interrupted play twice before a change of venue to Villanova Stadium allowed for the completion of the game. Villanova surrendered their first goal of the season to GW scored in the 55th minute, but the ‘Cats responded in the 88th minute with a game winning goal by junior Nikki Mabery.

Up next for the ‘Cats is Hartford in game one of the Villanova University Tournament starting tomorrow at 4:00.