NEW BRITAIN, CONN. – Despite a game-tying goal in the final minutes of play, University of New Hampshire (UNH) women’s soccer (1-2-0, 0-0-0) couldn’t complete their comeback in overtime Sunday night against Central Connecticut State (CCS) University (2-1-0, 0-0-0).
It was fifth-year forward Francesca Picicci who helped break the stalemate with eight minutes remaining to send the game into extra time. Picicci powered into Central Connecticut’s zone and used her speed to outpace a defender before ripping the ball towards the net. Central Connecticut’s sophomore goalkeeper Caitlin Murphy couldn’t help but watch as the ball arched over her head and into her near post to hand Picicci her first goal of the season and stave off a loss for the Wildcats in regular play.
Head coach Steve Welham said Picicci’s goal was outstanding and one the team felt was coming sooner or later.
“You can see the players on the field and off the field that we’re wanting to go into the game. The energy and the enthusiasm were outstanding. You can sense and you can feel that was coming.”
UNH got the ball to start OT and looked to end the game early. Sophomore forward Emily Bini had the teams’ best chance of the overtime period, putting a free kick on net in the first minute. Her shot sailed to a pack of players by Murphy’s near post, but an overzealous header landed the ball out of bounds.
The Blue Devils used a free kick of their own to set up their best and only chance of extras. After a play for the ball in the corner, the ball found junior midfielder Roma McLaughlin who danced by a defender and then rocketed one towards senior goalkeeper Cat Sheppard’s far post. Sheppard skied up to try and swat the ball with her glove, but the ball whizzed past her and into the net for the game-winning goal.
Despite the loss, Welham noted that playing Central Connecticut close – a three-time NCAA tournament competitor – is an encouraging sign for his squad.
“It’s important when you’re playing a quality opposition like this on the road. Obviously, we want to get the win, and we’re without a doubt disappointed by [losing],” Welham stated. “But the performance is there. I think these things are coming and more goals are coming.”
Picicci’s goal wasn’t the Wildcats first chance to break the tie in the second half, however as the Wildcats had a pair of free kicks, but both went nowhere.
Sophomore Ella Dudley got the first free kick in the 61st minute of the match, but her shot went right into the arms of Murphy who threw the ball back into play to end the threat.
Fellow sophomore Alivia Kelly blasted the Wildcats second free kick of the half. This time around the shot found a teammate whose header redirected the ball out of play which gave Central Connecticut possession once more.
Welham was disappointed that the team wasn’t able to cash in on the chances, but believes that despite coming up short, these are moments the ‘Cats can learn from.
“But this is an area where you have an opportunity to train for these moments in practice. So, we’re getting better at this. It’s exciting to see that we’re getting closer. So that’s a good sign.”
The loss extends UNH to a now six-game losing streak when playing away from Wildcat Stadium, a streak that dates back to the 2019 season.
Welham said that while the results haven’t been there, UNH has tackled a series of tough opponents on the road during that streak and they’ve played them tight. He also believes that playing that level of non-conference competition will make the Wildcats better in the long run.
“We put these teams on the schedule for a reason, especially the non-conference opponents. It’s an exciting way to play the top teams in the region. That’s what gets you better,” Welham stated. “Yes, you want to get wins. But you need to be prepared for conflicts.”
UNH will look to break their first losing streak of the season Thursday, Aug. 2 when they host St. Francis College (1-2-1, 0-0-0) at Wildcat Stadium for a 6:00 kickoff.
Photo courtesy of Steve McLaughlin