DURHAM, N.H — It all comes down to Friday at 2 p.m. in Wildcat Stadium. That’s when the University of New Hampshire (UNH) women’s soccer team (5-2, 2-2) will face off against Stony Brook (4-3, 4-1) with playoffs on the line. The ‘Cats sit at second in Division A of the America East (AE) behind UMass Lowell (5-1-1, 4-0) and just in front of Vermont (1-3-1, 1-2-1). The Wildcats edged out Vermont in a double-overtime thriller earlier this season and hold the tiebreaker if the two sides finish with the same conference record.
UNH controls their own destiny going into Friday’s matchup. Thanks to Vermont’s tie against Maine, the Wildcats can claw themselves into the playoffs with a win or a draw. The Catamounts have the taller task of the two feline foes. Vermont must get a win versus UMass Lowell, something no AE team has managed to do this season. The Wildcats will also need to lose for the Catamounts to sneak into the playoffs.
Vermont’s matchup comes as a relief to Coach Steve Welham and his team. Welham pointed out that a Vermont loss was as good as a UNH win in his postgame remarks Sunday. A victory against Stony Brook won’t be easy, so the insurance of a Vermont loss would be massive.
The Seawolves are top dogs in AE Division B with several impressive wins on the season, including a 5-0 trouncing of the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT). Stonybrook isn’t invincible, however; they fell 1-0 to UAlbany Sunday, April 4. UNH is mortal as well but have kept their losses on the road with a perfect 4-0 record in Wildcat Stadium to this point.
UNH’s final road game of the season was canceled when Hartford canceled their season, giving the ‘Cats a much-needed bye week. UNH is tied for the most games played in the conference this year. Had the Hartford game been played, UNH would have been alone with eight games on the season. Coach Welham said the break in action was a nice rest and recovery period for his team.
“We need to recover. We played hard, and we have some knocks that we’re carrying, so this [break] is a little bit of a silver lining for us,” he said.
It has been a season like no other for the Wildcats; UNH is playing in the spring and amid a pandemic. The team has found remarkable success despite the challenges of the coronavirus (COVID-19) and all while fielding a squad comprised mostly of first and second-year athletes. Welham gave all the credit to the mental toughness of his team.
“We have a wonderful team spirit and culture about us, and that’s going to be the big piece that’s going to help drive us forward in this playoff run and in this playoff hunt. So that’s what we’re really happy with, and they play for each other, they go out, they leave everything they have on the field. We couldn’t ask them more in that regard the energy and the effort is there,” explained Welham.
Game time Friday will prove if spirit and effort are enough to propel UNH into the postseason. Welham is confident his team can get it done one last time before the playoffs.
“We’ve been outstanding at home, and we’re looking forward to playing the defending champs at home,” he said.
PHOTO COURTESY OF JACK BOUCHARD.