DURHAM, N.H. – University of New Hampshire (UNH) women’s soccer (5-1, 2-1) won in double overtime against the University of Vermont (0-2, 0-2) by a final score of 2-1. It was senior day at Wildcat Stadium, and Vermont came close to spoiling the occasion until an 87th minute equalizer and 115th minute game-winner for UNH. The small crowd that UNH allowed in cheered the Wildcats on during a hard-fought physical game.
UNH brought their trademark press early and often to start the game. Vermont looked to break out, but the constant darting runs and challenges from the ‘Cats won battle after battle in the attacking third.
Moments later, a missed chance by UNH came back to bite the ‘Cats. Vermont delivered a ball in the box that deflected to junior forward Cricket Basa. Basa fired a low shot across goal that UNH junior goalkeeper Cat Sheppard saved but couldn’t grab hold of. The ball rebounded off Sheppard right to Vermont’s sophomore forward Karen Wallace, who tapped the ball into the bottom left corner.
Head coach Steve Welham said he felt the team was a little hard done by Vermont’s opener after Sheppard made a great save, but the ball ended up going right to Wallace.
The normally ball-dominant Wildcats looked a little shell-shocked after falling behind at home for the first time in the season. A turnover in UNH’s own half almost doubled the deficit, but Sheppard proved her class with a superb diving save to her left.
UNH got back on the attacking foot with a little over 10 minutes to play in the half and put a few shots towards the net. Still, the efforts never looked troubling for junior goalkeeper Lydia Kessel. UNH had an opportunity from a corner kick in the final minute of the half but lacked a strong finish. The Wildcats went into the locker room at halftime down a goal with only one shot on net.
UNH had two chances to open the scoring in the second half but couldn’t bring their efforts on target. A deflected ball off senior midfielder Casey Peterson found senior forward Francesca Picicci in the box, but Kessel clattered into Picicci and grabbed hold of the ball before UNH’s captain could get an effort on goal.
With a little under 10 minutes to play, coach Welham instructed first-year defender Alivia Kelly to play on the attack. Welham said he changed formations as the game progressed.
“Alivia has the ability to get forward. She’s so technical and dynamic, and she can help create and unlock the door with a couple of different looks for us. So, we were searching for that right combination, and I think we found it at the end,” explained Welham.
All of UNH’s work finally paid off in the 87th minute. A cross from first-year back Ella Dudley into the box was headed on net by first-year midfielder Anna Hewlett. Hewlett’s header was inch-perfect and nestled into the top left corner past the outstretched fingers of Kessel. The late equalizer sent UNH and Vermont into overtime. Welham said he had praise for both Dudley’s delivery and Hewlett’s finish. The Wildcats’ coach noted that to score with a header is one of the most challenging parts of the game and gave full credit to Hewlett’s technique.
In overtime, it was all UNH. The Wildcats launched ball after ball down the field. Chances remained hard-fought and Vermont held on for double overtime.
In double overtime UNH kept the pressure up. First-year forward Emily Bini won a corner around midway through the overtime period when she nearly netted the winner. The save from Kessel kept her side alive for only a few more seconds.
On the corner, the delivery was cleared to the top of the box by Vermont, and first-year forward Keegan Mayer was waiting for it. Mayer made no mistake and put her laces through the ball. The shot exploded into the back of the net, and Mayer’s teammates swarmed her in celebration.
On the game as a whole, Welham praised his team’s mental toughness and physical endurance.
“[The team] has a wonderful spirit about themselves and they’re so bought in, and they love playing for each other and love playing for the UNH shirt. And when you have that spirit and culture. You know that you have to go through all of us to get something. I don’t want to single anybody out, but I thought the work that across the table was great.”
UNH will take it on the road once more to face the Binghampton Bearcats Sunday, March 28.
Photo courtesy of Vincent Dejana.