’Cats battle Seton Hall to scoreless draw over Fall Break

Greg Habeeb

Despite outshooting their opponents 9-4 in the first half, the Villanova Wildcats were unable to put away the Seton Hall Pirates on Sunday, as the two sides battled to a scoreless double overtime draw on a particularly windy afternoon at the Higgins Soccer Complex. 

With the tie the Wildcats (5-8-3, 3-3-1) continue to break even in conference play and grab a point as they head into their final two matches of the season, where they will look to secure a spot in the Big East tournament. The Pirates (3-8-5, 0-4-3) remain winless in Big East matches this season. 

The match between the two conference foes was marked by both sides’ physical play. 

Several yellow cards were given and two Seton Hall players left the game due to injury. 

Tensions bubbled over in the second half, when Seton Hall junior defender D’Yonna Riley and Villanova junior midfielder Hayley Wilson became embroiled in an altercation following a Riley foul. Wilson was given a yellow card for her actions, and was substituted out immediately following the play. 

“In our scouting report, one of the bullet points was to remain composed because we knew that they were a physical team that will foul you a lot,” Head Coach Fran Kulas said. “We were not composed and that was disappointing. That’s something we talk about for sure and that was not one of our better moments there.”

With the wind at its back, Villanova created several significant opportunities in the first half of play. Less than eight minutes into the game, senior forward Caitlin Forte was on the receiving end of an excellent through ball from midfield. Forte was unable to convert, as her shot bounced wide right of the mark. 

’Nova threatened to score again in the waning moments of the first half, but sophomore forward Katie Martin’s shot was handled easily by Pirates’ sophomore keeper Illisa Blackshear. 

’Nova’s best chance to score came in the 88th minute, when junior defender Emily Damstrom headed a corner kick off of the crossbar. The Wildcats began the second half as strongly as they finished the first half, immediately creating a chance for streaking senior forward Victoria Gersh. 

Gersh was offside on the play, however, and Seton Hall seized its good fortune by grabbing control of the game, rattling off four shots over the next 17 minutes while snuffing out every Wildcat offensive. In the 51st minute, sophomore goalkeeper Emma Meyer was called on to make a terrific save, batting Seton Hall senior midfielder Kristina Meier’s shot over the net. 

Meier’s shot was arguably the best opportunity either team had over the course of the match.

Kulas noted that the shift in the action was a combination of both the elements and Seton Hall’s aggressiveness. 

“I think the wind was a factor, but I also think what happens is it’s a game of momentum.” Kulas said. “We talk about getting momentum back with one play. I think it was that they made a couple plays and so forth and then we weathered it, but I think also part of it was the wind was tough to get out of our half.”

Following Wilson’s yellow card in the 67th minute, Kulas made some tactical adjustments, subbing in Martin and freshman forward Jessica Moskal and shifting Gersh to midfield. 

The move stabilized the Wildcat defense and evened out the action for the remainder of the match. Kulas stated how valuable Gersh’s flexibility has become to this Wildcat team, especially when things are not necessarily going according to plan on the field.

“Vic[toria] is a very versatile player, she can play anywhere on the field,” Kulas said. “It was just about I can use her wherever I need to use her so when people needed a little rest I could put her in midfield or I could put her up front and just shuffle things that way,” he added. 

Sunday’s draw, along with last Thursday’s win against Creighton, puts the ’Cats in a position to make the Big East tournament. 

However, a postseason appearance is far from certain, as ’Nova still has to play against Georgetown and Providence, two of the better teams in the Big East. 

With Butler only three points behind in the standings, ’Nova could be in danger of missing the tournament should they fail to gain any points from either of their last two matches.

“We had a chance to control our own destiny today and it’s a missed opportunity really and other people took advantage of that,” Kulas said, noting that a victory against the basement dwelling Pirates would have all but secured a postseason berth. “The good news is we’re still alive, the bad news is we’re making it harder on ourselves than we need to.”

The Wildcats will travel to No. 25 Georgetown Sunday.