Women kick into Sweet 16

Lauren Ferarra

Villanova women’s soccer advanced in the NCAA Tournament on Sunday after upending the University of Virginia in penalty kicks. The No. 15 ranked Wildcats upset the No. 10 Cavaliers in the second round of the tournament at Klockner Stadium to advance them to their first-ever NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 appearance.

The game was deadlocked after a regulation game and two overtime periods proved a scoreless tie. In the penalty kick overtime period the Wildcats came out on top winning the game 4-2.

“Coach has talked about a standard of excellence,” senior Captain Candice MacDonald said. “Each year the women’s soccer team has raised the bar, but this year we’ve gone above and beyond.  

Our goals have always been to win a Big East Championship and to make it to the Sweet 16, and we have accomplished both of those. I am so confident in our team and our ability to continue on with the work ahead of us.”

The game was evenly matched early in the first half as the first shot did not come until 15 minutes into the game when UVA forward Kelly Hammond took a header on net. This shot sparked an aggressive Cavalier offense. Hammond took another attempt at the net at the 20-minute mark but Wildcat All-American Michelle Biehl blocked the effort, keeping the game scoreless. Virginia had several more opportunities on net, but the ‘Cats’ defense remained unshaken as UVA outshot ‘Nova 5-0 in the first 25 minutes.

“Virginia was probably one of the best teams we’ve played against this year, if not the best,” MacDonald said.  “They had a huge problem with scoring and couldn’t get the ball in the net. With our talented backfield and with Chrissy in net it, wasn’t going to be easy for them.”

The Wildcat defense remained steadfast and kept ‘Nova in the game. Villanova finally got its first shot with 14:48 remaining in the first half when a MacDonald shot went wide of the Cavalier net. Several more runs by UVA were ineffective as they outshot the ‘Cats 10-2 going into intermission.

The second half looked like the first, as UVA continued with offensive pressure and the ‘Cats defense warding them off. “We definitely didn’t play to our strengths,” MacDonald said. “We didn’t keep possession of the ball enough, and had difficulty clearing the ball out of our half.  It was just an off game for us.”

While the Wildcats weren’t at their best, they were still gritty competitors, not allowing a goal to be given up. Dolan stepped up to make some key saves for the Wildcats and MacDonald took another shot at the 15:30 mark that was saved by Cavalier goalkeeper Anne Abernethy on a diving save. The game went into overtime scoreless, as neither team could capitalize on their scoring opportunities.

In the first overtime, the Cavaliers were able to get two shots off, but once again, both were unrewarding. The second attempt by Sarah Lane hit the post with 10 seconds left, forcing a second overtime period.

“When the game went into overtime, Virginia dropped off a bit and didn’t create many opportunities for themselves and we continued to battle,” MacDonald said. “In the second overtime, we definitely dominated and kept the majority of the possession.” Despite the momentum-shift into the Wildcat’s hands, the second overtime was still scoreless.

The game was forced into penalty kicks, a situation in which the Wildcats were all too familiar. In the last four games for Villanova, three of them were determined on penalty kicks. “We almost just had to laugh,” MacDonald said. “We have been in that situation three times in the post season and were completely prepared.  There was no pressure, just confidence. Chrissy came up huge with two saves, which pretty much secured us the win.”  

Villanova was confident and collected in the shootout. Goals were scored by Lindsey Finnegan, Valerie Grow and Laura Johnson. Two saves by Dolan allowed ‘Nova to take a 3-2 lead. The ‘Cats had the opportunity to win on their next kick and sophomore Kelly Breslin capitalized on that chance, blasting a shot past UVA’s Abernethy and advancing the Wildcats to the Sweet 16.

The Wildcats will play the third round of the NCAA tournament at home against Brigham Young University. Villanova will host the event at the Soccer Complex on West Campus, scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 22 at 12 p.m.