Wildcats grind out double-overtime draw
By Sam Rabuck, Staff Writer
Ninety minutes of regulation wasn’t enough to decide Thursday night’s America East Conference game between UNH women’s soccer and the University of Maryland at Baltimore County. The Wildcats, wearing pink uniforms in observation of national Breast Cancer Awareness Month, played a long, physical game, but ultimately wound up tying the defending America East Conference champions 0-0 in double overtime.
The Wildcats’ defense, anchored by seniors Hannah Blondin and Jenna Shaddock, was faced with the daunting task of keeping a UMBC offense that scores an average of 1.93 goals per game at bay.
True to form, the Wildcats answered the call defensively by not ceding a single shot on net until the 58th minute of the game.
“It’s really unfortunate,” Shaddock said. “[UMBC] are defending champions and we went to double overtime with them. I think was our game to win.”
Head coach Steve Welham was pleased with the strong defensive play from the Wildcats and felt that the team played well as a unit. Welham felt this game was especially meaningful to his players on “Think Pink Night” at Cowell Stadium.
“I think every person on our team stood up and played their hearts out,” Welham said. “I think tonight it was a great night because of the ‘think pink.’ A lot of our players have gone through some personal issues with family [due to breast cancer]. Each and every single player stood up and was accounted for. It was awesome to see that.”
The Wildcats owned UMBC in the shot department, outshooting the Retrievers
Despite the strong play from the Wildcats, the teams remained scoreless deep into the second half of play.
During the 65th minute, senior Caroline Murray broke through the UMBC defense and had a clear path towards the net from inside the box until a UMBC defender pulled her down from behind by the jersey. The interference call appeared to be clear-cut, but the refs kept the whistles away and signaled for the teams to play on.
The physicality from both teams was relentless, as collision after collision resulted in several players being slow to get up.
“The ref allowed it to be an open game,” Welham said. “Sometimes that’s a good thing. It was a free flowing match. It was competitive, it was spirited, and not one for the light-hearted.”
Things got dicey in the 75th minute when a UMBC corner kick lobbed perfectly to the front of UNH’s net nearly put the Retrievers in the lead, but the ball was pushed just wide of and the teams remained level.
In the 86th minute, technically-sound footwork from Murray set up a beautiful pass to freshman Brooke Murphy. Murphy was able to put a solid blast from her head into the ball, but UMBC’s goalkeeper, Jen Nance, was quick on her feet and stopped the would-be go ahead goal.
As the final whistle blew in regulation, the teams headed into a tightly-contested overtime period.
The first 10 minutes of overtime yielded little from either team offensively as both teams continued to battle in what was certainly the most physically grueling game the Wildcats have played at home this season.
The Wildcats nearly scored a sudden-victory goal in the second overtime period when junior Kristen O’Neil shot a rocket from 25 yards out. Nance, who made an impressive 11 saves on the night, dove quickly to her right and extended fully to tip the ball, forcing it just wide of the net.
Although the Wildcats failed to score, the offense set up several scoring chances that Welham thinks will come as long as the team stays persistent on the attack.
“We just have to be a little more deadly in taking shots from the scoring area,” Welham said.
Tying the eight-win Retrievers was certainly a positive for the Wildcats as they improved to 4-7-2 on the season and 1-1-2 in America East.
“When we see them again in the playoffs, we’ll get them,” Shaddock said.
The Wildcats continue America East play as they take on the University of Hartford (7-2-3) Sunday at 2 p.m. on Bremner field. A win against Hartford will put the Wildcats atop the America East Conference standings.