By Sam Rabuck, Staff Writer
UNH secured its spot in the America East Conference playoffs for the 13th-consecutive year with their win over UMass Lowell last Thursday, but that didn’t stop the Wildcats (7-8-2) from coming out with plenty of energy as they defeated the Seawolves of Stony Brook (5-10-2) by a score of 1-0 Sunday afternoon.
The Wildcats offense pressured Stony Brook from the start, and the strategy paid off when senior midfielder Caroline Murray (one assist) intercepted a pass at midfield and raced off towards the net.
Murray found freshman Brooke Murphy (one goal) on a perfect pass that Murphy buried into the lower right corner of the net with her left foot in the 21st minute.
“[Murray] played that great ball through and I just relaxed outside the box,” Murphy said. “I saw [the goalkeeper] coming out and I saw the slight angle in the back open up so I put a little spin on the ball and put it around her.”
Murphy’s go-ahead goal marked her 8th of the season, a statistic that head coach Steve Welham feels is simply fantastic.
“[Murphy] has been a finisher inside the box,” Welham said. “She’s a poacher, she reads the game and she has a high soccer IQ. She works her tail off every single game and she loves the game. You can’t say enough positive things about [Murphy].”
Equally as impressive is the stingy Wildcats defense, headed by senior defenders Hannah Blondin, Jenna Shaddock and goalkeeper Mimi Borkan, who had five saves on the day.
The Wildcats’ bend-but-don’t-break style of play kept the Stony Brook offensive attack at bay. Several diving saves from Borkan, along with heads-up clearing efforts from the Wildcats’ backline, paved the way to Borkan’s eighth shutout of the season, good for second best in the America East Conference.
Blondin feels the Wildcats’ success on the defensive front is due in large to the maturity of Borkan, who, despite being a sophomore, commands the field like a seasoned veteran.
“[Borkan] is a great anchor to the backline,” Blondin said. “She’s a young player, but she acts like a senior. She guides our whole backline with talking and she makes great decisions on the field.”
The victory improved the Wildcats’ record in the America East Conference to 4-2-2, and UNH will be seeded No. 3 and given home-field advantage in their first game of the playoffs.
“[The No. 3 seed] is a positive advantage for us,” Welham said. “We won’t have to travel, and we’ll play somebody we’ve already played in the year, which is always interesting because they’re going be up for the game. There’s a lot of parity in the conference, so it’s going to be a battle no matter who we play.”
For Murphy, she feels as long as the team plays their game, the Wildcats will continue to produce positive results.
“We need to just keep playing our game,” Murphy said. “We play the feet and switch the field. We’re starting to really do that well and if we continue to do that, we’ll be just fine.”
The Wildcats will take on Binghamton University on Bremner Field this Thursday at 7 p.m. in first round America East playoff action.