LOWELL, MASS. – The University of New Hampshire (UNH) women’s soccer team (4-1, 1-1) took their perfect record on the road but fell 2-0 to the UMass Lowell (UML) River Hawks (2-1-1, 1-0-0). The Wildcats weren’t quite themselves, and UML handed them their first loss of the season, ending UNH’s undefeated start to the season.    

The Wildcats got off to an uncharacteristic start against the River Hawks. UNH usually overwhelms teams with their press and creates their chances from turnovers in midfield and the attacking third. UMass Lowell was able to withstand UNH’s aggressive play and kept possession far more than previous opponents. Lowell’s possession turned into chances.  

Head coach Steve Welham said the team had some trouble organizing early on.  

“I think the first 10 to 15 minutes of the game, it took us a while to settle down into our game.”  

Chances turned into goals in the 14th minute when first-year UML forward Calliste Brookshire fired an effort at the UNH goal. Brookshire took it on from a tight angle and hit the ball toward Sheppard’s near post. The shot glanced off a UNH defender and beat Sheppard in the top left corner.  

The shot looked like one that one the conference’s top goalkeepers may have been able to handle it if not for the deflection. The score ended a streak of over 270 minutes without conceding a goal for Sheppard and the Wildcat defense. The last goal allowed came in a 5-1 route of Merrimack College on Feb. 24. 

Welham said that the goal was unfortunate because he felt UNH was improving as the game went on.  

“Once we got our shape down a little bit. We were a lot better, a bit more dangerous,” explained Welham. 

UNH found themselves down 1-0 midway through the first half. That is unfamiliar territory for the ‘Cats, who had never trailed in their first four games of the season. Chances came at a premium for both teams for the remainder of the first half. UNH came close to an equalizer on a few occasions. One effort hit the post and rebounded out, while another shot looked destined to beat sophomore UML goalkeeper Taylor Burgess but was blocked by a defender.  

Welham complimented his team’s fight to tie the game and said the shot off the post was one of the fine margins between winning and losing.  

The ‘Cats were outshot 8-6 in the first, and Lowell put seven shots on target to UNH’s three. Apart from the deflected goal, Sheppard was solid in between the sticks with six saves in the opening 45 minutes.  

The second half looked similar to the first in the opening 10 minutes. The River Hawks nearly doubled their lead with an effort off the crossbar in the 55th minute. Lowell looked determined to poor as much pressure as they could muster onto UNH and keep the ‘Cats on their heels.  

It looked like UML was going to extend their lead in the 80th minute, but the home side hit the post, and Sheppard gathered the rebound. Despite UNH being the ones in need of an equalizer, the River Hawks looked the more dangerous side.  

In the 87th minute of play, a UML free kick was tipped onto the crossbar by Sheppard. The ball rebounded straight to first-year forward Gianna DeRose, who had an open net from a yard out. DeRose poked the ball across the line and left the Wildcats looking into the jaws of defeat for the first time in 2021.  

Two strange goals and several closely missed chances were the difference for UNH. Welham said he and his team will focus on Vermont (0-1, 0-1) rather than the loss.  

“We’ll certainly bring it, and we’re looking forward to it already. I wish I could fast forward and play Sunday now. We’re ready to get back at it and you have that 24-hour rule; once 24 hours is over regardless if you win or lose it’s back to business, so you know we’re back to business.”  

Expect a fired-up UNH team Sunday, March 21, in Wildcat Stadium. 

Photo courtesy of UNH Athletics.