Compiled by SAM ROGERS and BRIAN DUNN
With six games left in the regular season, the women’s soccer team is finding its groove. The Wildcats travelled to take on America East rival Vermont, grabbing a 3-2 victory for their second America East win.
Every conference game is important, but this matchup had big implications. UNH and UVM both shared a lead of the American East Conference before Thursday afternoon’s tilt.
The game was the first conference road match of the season for the Wildcats, and the Wildcats went in with an issue that needs to be fixed before the team can hope to repeat as conference champions—the ‘Cats needed to find a way to get the ball into the back of the net, having entered with only 1.3 goals per game. Against the Catamounts, that’s exactly what happened.
“We came into today’s game with a great game plan,” head coach Steve Welham said. “We wanted to press them hard and expose our good matchups.”
The plan has worked in both America East matchups the ‘Cats have played in this season: the 3-2 win over Vermont on Thursday, and a 6-0 thrashing of the Binghamton Bearcats last weekend.
UNH took a 1-0 lead into halftime after Caroline Murray’s cross in the Vermont box was misplayed by a Catamount defender and ended up as an own goal in the game’s 20th minute. The Wildcats held onto the slim lead until the half.
But in the first minute of the second half, UVM’s Nikki McFarland beat UNH goaltender Mimi Borkan to even the score at 1-1. In the 54th minute, McFarland scored again to give the Catamounts their first lead of the day.
But Kristen O’Neil sparked the Wildcats second half comeback with a goal of her own in the 67th minute off a corner kick by Murray.
Standout Brooke Murphy, who led the team with four shots, couldn’t find the back of the net, but was able to dish out a pass to junior Caitlin Bucksbaum, who fired home the game-winning shot in the 81st minute. It was the first goal of the Vermont native’s career.
“They showed heart during that comeback. That’s what a championship team does,” Welham said. And while the six-point swing the game provided in the standings leaves UNH alone atop the conference, Welham said he and his players are focused on taking this season one game at a time.
“Yeah I mean repeating as conference champions is our goal,” he said, “but we need to go one game at a time. It seems cliché but that’s what we need to do, we need to get better and progress every day.”
The ‘Cats turn their focus to a home matchup with the University at Albany Great Danes on Sunday, Oct. 4. The game will take place on Bremner Field and is slated to start at 2 p.m. The Wildcats will be recognizing their seniors during the pregame ceremonies.
The win streak continued as the UNH women’s soccer team grabbed its third consecutive win in America East, improving to 3-0 in conference, as they defeated the Albany Great Danes 1-0.
The Wildcats celebrated Senior Day prior to the game. With five players representing the Wildcat senior class, coming out and sealing a victory against Albany meant a little more than two points in the conference standings.
“This is everything, I mean it just proves that the team is here to fight for one another and us,” senior captain Gabrielle Sloan said, “Its really nice to have the whole family here too.”
Head coach Steve Welham, in only his second year at the program’s helm, has admired the senior’s drive and work ethic throughout his time at UNH.
“This senior class has seen a lot of change,” Welham said regarding his five senior athletes. “They’ve remained real disciplined and they understand what they want to do and what is at stake.”
The ‘Cats certainly did not forget what happened the last time they played the Great Danes, a 4-2 loss at Albany. The Wildcats were seeking vengeance for their loss last year.
Much like the previous matchup against the UVM Catamounts, the team set the tone early in the game. The Wildcats recorded eight shots on goal, while holding the Great Danes to three in the first half.
The only goal of the game came from the Wildcats’ leading goal scorer, Brooke Murphy. Junior Kelsey Pratt dished it to Murphy, who put it to the right of Albany goaltender Alana Brennan to give the Wildcats a 1-0 lead 12 minutes into the game.
With Murphy’s goal being the sole point tallied on the afternoon, the rest of the game rested in the hands of the Wildcat defense. They succeeded in stopping a high-powered Great Dane offense, which had a 12.8 shots-per-game average coming into the matchup.
“You’re going to go forward, you’re going to throw everything you can at the opposition,” Welham said regarding the Wildcats’ defensive effort. “At that point we had to weather the storm a little bit.”
The Great Danes had a late game flurry with around ten minutes to play in the game, but the Wildcats stood tall and hung on to secure the shutout. Welham credited his team’s ability to stay focused mentally and stay strong under pressure.
“They threw a couple different looks at us and put us under the gun a little bit,” Welham said. “What were proud of is the fact that we held on, we had what we had and what we needed to get out of this.”
A strong shutout at home proves the Wildcats’ depth is a reliable asset moving forward, knowing any player can step in and make a difference.
“You put anyone in there and they’re going to step up” Sloan said, “and that proved today because we had two people out and we just won.”
The Wildcats look to remain undefeated in conference play, as they welcome the UMass-Lowell Riverhawks to town on Thursday, Oct. 8th.
UNH sweeps weekend doubleheader
Compiled by SAM ROGERS and BRIAN DUNN