DURHAM N.H. — As Bob Dylan sang on his 1997 album Time Out of Mind, “It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.” The refrain is beginning to ring true for University of New Hampshire (UNH) women’s soccer (2-6-2, 0-2-1). Thursday’s loss against the UMass Massachusetts Lowell (UML) Riverhawks (6-3-1, 3-0-0) is the team’s sixth loss in their last eight. With just six games remaining, things are looking bleak in Durham.
A pair of penalty kicks was the difference during the nightcap. Following a foul on UNH senior captain Francesca Picicci, sophomore Anna Hewlett stepped in front of the net. Hewlett approached the net and aimed low on UML first-year goalkeeper Lisa Sjögren’s near post. The Riverhawks’ goalkeeper read it, dived to her right, and blocked the ball with her gloves before senior teammate Halle Anderson kicked the ball out of play to end the scoring threat.
UNH head coach Steve Welham said the team went to Hewlett at that moment because she was the only option available. He explained that in moments like these last season, the team would turn to junior midfielder Whitney Wiley or senior midfielder Julie Cane. However, Wiley tore her ACL last spring, and Cane is still sidelined with a high ankle sprain, leaving Hewlett as the only option.
“It was one of those situations where you have to credit a player to step up, and that was one of the few players we had,” Welham said. I think [Hewlett] would want that one back, but next time I think she buries it.”
Following a slide tackle by UNH senior defender Jamie Irwin on UML sophomore forward Calliste Brookshire, the Riverhawks were awarded a penalty kick of their own. Lowell’s senior Emily Nelson prepared to take the shot, wound up, and placed it to the top left. UNH senior goalkeeper Cat Sheppard tracked the ball, dove to her right, and stretched out her hand, but the ball sailed past her and into the back of the net.
“I guessed the right side; I knew she went right. She hit it high, and I was just underneath it,” Sheppard said.
Welham continued to speak about the potential chances his Wildcats had on Thursday night.
“Obviously it’s disappointing when we felt we could have been a little bit against the run of play. There were broken plays as well, and that was disheartening, but again, it tests your character,” Welham said.
Sophomore defender Ella Dudley tallied a goal with one minute left in regulation, but it was too little too late. Sjögren’s penalty kick save haunted Wildcat Stadium like a specter. Especially since Dudley’s marker would have served as the game-tying goal instead of the only goal scored.
Welham believes that his team left more chances out there than just that one play, however. But he was quick to praise the Riverhawks ability to get back on defense and limit the number of second chances generated.
It is the third time UNH has lost a game by one goal, with perhaps this latest being the most crushing. They are currently seventh in the America East and are outside of the playoff picture, with New Jersey Institute of Technology (4-8, 2-1) sixth and two wins ahead of the Wildcats. If things don’t change, it will be the first time the Wildcats have failed to qualify for the playoffs since the Steve Welham era started in 2014.
This is also the worst start to conference play the Wildcats have had since Welham took control of the program. The only comparison is 2014 where the ‘Cats started 1-1-1. This year, however, that first conference win continues to allude them.
Yet Welham trusts in the process that the team has stuck by these first 11 games and believes it will help the Wildcats find success going forward.
“We’ve played well enough to win every game we’ve been in, and we feel very confident saying that. There’s no question. It’s been a very interesting year for us in that regard,” Welham said. “And we know the product we’re putting onto the field is a good one. I think it’s trusting the process; it’s taking the moments as they come along and getting better.”
Dudley believes that it’s not time for the team to panic either. Rather, it’s time for them to battle back and dig themselves out of the hole they have fallen into.
“I just think it’s coming for us. It’s a lot of adversity to face right at the beginning [of the season], but again it is good teams we played at the beginning, so I don’t think we’re worried,” Dudley said. “I don’t think we feel any urgency, I think we’re ready to fight now.”
UNH will turn the page and the calendar to October, as they travel to New York this Sunday to take on Stony Brook University (5-5-1, 2-1-0) for a 1 p.m. kickoff.
Photo courtesy of Andrew Yourell