Heading into the weekend, the women’s soccer team was rolling with a 4-0 record after dominating their opponents. However, even after a loss last weekend at the UPenn Invitational, the ‘Cats have come out an even stronger team.
In the tournament’s opening game on Friday, the team was matched against the formidable Princeton Tigers, who are ranked No. 20 in the nation. These two teams met last year in the first round of the NCAA tournament, where the Wildcats managed a hard-fought 2-1 victory.
This year the intensity was no different. Both teams battled in a stalemate until Princeton scored at the 65-minute mark in the second half.
Despite a solid offensive effort led by sophomore Jamie Weist, the ‘Cats were unable to conquer the solid Princeton defense and were handed their first defeat of the season.
Although even in defeat, the Wildcat defense was superb. One particular standout was goalie Jillian Loyden, who recorded a game-high six saves, including a leaping block that deflected a shot by Maija Garnaas early in the game.
Freshman Kayce Blandford also continued to impress, playing solid defense and blocking a free kick to save a goal.
“While it was a tough loss we really were able to take many valuable lessons from the game,” senior captain Laura Johnson said. “That will definitely help us as the season goes on, especially because we have such a young team.”
Two days later the team was back in action, taking on UPenn, who as the host of the tournament, held a home-field advantage. This game was yet another defensive battle, as once again the first half was scoreless for both sides. All-American Michelle Biehl was in top form and paired with the ever reliable Laura Koch, together they held the Quakers to only four shots in the second half and overtime.
The scoring drought was ended in the second half, as the amazing one-two punch of Johnson and freshman Nikki Mabery produced another goal. This goal was the freshman’s third of the season, all coming in the last four games. Johnson has racked up an assist in three out of her last four games and seems to be in midseason form.
“I think the thing that is great about our team is that our scoring is spread around so well, so at any moment anyone on our team can score,” Johnson said.
The game was again tied after the Quakers’ Katy Cross scored off a volley at the 60-minute mark. Loyden and the defense buckled down after that and did not allow another goal, as the game moved into overtime.
The first overtime was yet another defensive stalemate, and the game moved into double overtime. At the 103-minute mark, sophomore Valerie Grow blasted the winning goal from 30 yards out, sealing the victory for the ‘Cats.
The victory moves them to 5-1 on the season heading into Big East play, as they take on the Boston College Eagles this Friday in Boston.
With their dominant defense, outstanding offense and a force in the net with Loyden, the Wildcats are off to a good start in their attempt to regain the Big East Championship.