DURHAM, N.H. – The University of New Hampshire (UNH) women’s soccer team (2-0, 0-0) won their second game of the season in style with a 5-1 win over Merrimack College (1-1). UNH’s defense left Merrimack on their heels for almost the entire game. Head coach Steve Welham said the team’s goal coming into the game was to press Merrimack off the field. They certainly did, with several goals coming from Merrimack turnovers in the attacking third.  

The Wildcats were the better team to start the game. UNH had most of the possession and darted into the attacking third thanks to numerous Merrimack turnovers in the midfield. It didn’t take long for UNH’s pressure to breakthrough. A great tackle by sophomore Whitney Wiley in the midfield left the attacking midfielder with space to run in on Merrimack’s backline. Wiley pushed into the box and found the run of senior captain Francesca Picicci on the left. The veteran forward finished the move with a shot into the bottom corner.  

UNH continued to dominate the game following the goal. The ‘Cats came close to adding a second in the 8th minute of play. UNH won a corner and had the keeper beat off the header but it grazed over the crossbar. The dominance continued for UNH but without a clear-cut chance on goal. The midfielders easily acquired possession for the Wildcats, but the play wasn’t quite crisp enough to earn a goal. The attackers had some trouble coordinating passes, and more than a few attempts at one-touch passes resulted in turnovers.  

The best chance since their first goal came in the 25th minute. Another UNH corner found the head of a Wildcat and was directed on target. Merrimack’s keeper made a good save, and the rebound was sent over the bar.  

UNH looked to finally add their second goal with 14 minutes remaining in the first half. A foul down the right side set up UNH in a dangerous position for a free kick. Wiley stood over it and whipped the ball in toward net with her left foot. The ball was almost surely intended as a crossing pass but found its way through the defense. Merrimack’s senior goaltender Megan Langlois expected contact and was beaten at her far post. UNH was finally able to break through for their second goal on the afternoon. 

In the 44th minute, an errant Merrimack pass sent first-year midfielder Anna Hewlett towards the goal. Langlois charged out of her net, but Hewlett beat her with a low cross straight to fellow first-year forward Cassie Jones. All Jones had to do was tap the ball into the open net for her first goal as a Wildcat. This goal put her side ahead 3-0. 

With a minute left to play in the first half, UNH wasn’t done yet. Sophomore midfielder Rachel Hollywood sent a crosser that looped over the Merrimack defense. Waiting for it was sophomore Shayna Salis whose finish was just as good as the feed from Hollywood. The flurry of late goals gave the Wildcats a 4-0 lead at the half.  

To start the second half, UNH picked up right where they left off. Picicci was unmarked down Merrimack’s left and avoided an oncoming defender with a quick pass to Wiley in the middle of the field. Wiley beat her defender with a quick turn and flick of the ball. Without hesitation, Wiley fired a low shot with her right foot. The ball screamed past Langlois’ outstretched hand just inside the left post. This was Wiley’s second of the match and gave her side a five-goal advantage.  

Coach Welham had no shortage of compliments for Wiley’s performance.  

“She does so many really good things in a game that she can manipulate space. She’s added the defensive aspect to her game. She’s got an incredibly dangerous left foot… but she’s also two footed… she can turn with the ball and she can use both feet,” explained Welham. 

UNH’s perfect afternoon was blemished when Merrimack’s sophomore midfielder Hallie Shiers looped what looked to be intended as a cross over the Wildcat’s junior keeper Cat Sheppard. Sheppard was slightly off her line and watched as the ball dropped just over her hand as she dove back toward her goal. The goal was the first Sheppard has conceded in the 2021 season after a shutout against Northeastern that earned her America East Defensive Player of the Week.  

The rest of the game was an uneventful affair. Both sides subbed out starters and cruised to the finish. Coach Welham said he was happy to rotate his players with a match versus the University of Rhode Island on Sunday.  

“That’s always something that you’d like to do, it’s kind of like a cool bonus where you can get everybody in and then you can get the starting group off for extra recovery time to take away any excess wear and tear,” Welham explained. “So, you can take that group off and give the other group an opportunity to see what they can do.” 

Photo courtesy of Jack Bouchard.