By ANDREW YOURELL
In Saturday’s battle for New Hampshire supremacy, the Wildcats’ bid fell just short, as the team dropped a tough 4-2 decision to the Dartmouth College Big Green.
“Melissa Rize, our goalkeeper, came up with some big saves,” said head coach Robin Balducci. “She was always playing man-down.” Rize recorded a career-high eight saves and kept the contest close.
The rest of the ‘Cats defense didn’t earn the same praise. Balducci’s first comment about the game referred to the defense’s inability to manage the Big Green attack on several occasions, allowing Dartmouth too many opportunities to set up inside the UNH 30 yard line.
On the offensive side, the ‘Cats were relatively stymied by Dartmouth, failing to set up extended scoring opportunities, and missing high percentage chances, including two breakaways in the second half.
The ‘Cats started the game aggressively, and the high-tempo pace of the game was able to mask some mistakes. But in the 20th minute, Dartmouth’s Eliza Becker managed to find the back of the net.
Jackie Hozza led UNH’s response, dribbling through the Big Green defense, before rifling a pass to Katie Audino, who one-timed the ball past Dartmouth goalie Paige Duffy. The score tied the game at 1-1, and the contest remained knotted until halftime. The strong start was a step in the right direction for Balducci’s squad.
“One of our goals, the last two games, we have let up goals early and we’ve gotten behind in the first five minutes,” Balducci said. “So that’s been a focus of ours, which we did well in the first half.”
A strong start was not the case in the second half. Three minutes in, Becker broke away from the UNH defense, ripping a shot that Rize had to dive to stop. Becker managed to get her own rebound, and, with no defenders nearby, passed the ball to Julia Donald, who scored easily before Rize could get up.
The heat seemed to play a role in the second half, with the temperature at 86 degrees at the start of the game. The Chase AstroTurf Field surface seemed even hotter. But Balducci wouldn’t blame the weather for the “very flat” performance.
“I was pretty unhappy with the leadership on the field, in terms of who’s going to settle it in and kind of organize in the moment.”
Dartmouth added another goal for a 3-1 lead when Heather Zezzo took a Sarah Tabeek pass in and beat the UNH defense in the 54th minute. It wasn’t until the game was within its final eight minutes that UNH regained its stride.
Ashley Mendonca nabbed her own rebound at the top of the Dartmouth circle, and fired a laser past Duffy to bring the ‘Cats within one point, with seven minutes remaining.
From there, UNH fought hard, and it appeared as though they might manage to force overtime. But the mistakes piled up, with Meg Flatley unable to beat Duffy on a breakaway. Then, with two-and-a-half minutes remaining, Chandler Giese was carded for a flagrant foul when she blocked out a Dartmouth attacker.
“You can’t take a major foul. You can’t take a penalty…now you’re a player down,” said Balducci. “It was just a situation of bad judgment in the moment.”
The Big Green took the ball after the card, and Rebecca Hu managed to sneak the ball past Rize after a rebounded shot caused a scrum.
The loss dropped the Wildcats to 1-2 on the season. They’ll seek to even their record at .500 on Friday, Sept. 11, when they travel to Storrs for a showdown with the UConn Huskies. The game is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.