STONY BROOK N.Y. — When the second half began between University of New Hampshire (UNH) women’s soccer (3-6-2, 1-2-1) and Stony Brook University (5-6-1, 2-2), UNH had a one-goal lead. Five minutes later, that lead tripled.
The team’s second goal came three minutes into the half. Following a failed attempt to clear the ball, it trickled to first-year forward Meghan Guarente. She cradled the ball with her right leg, rolled it to her left, and fired it on the net. The ball bounced off one defender’s head, landed past the reach of another, and skipped out of the painted endzone. Graduate student Francesca Picicci raced towards it and lofted the ball on net. Her kick beat Stony Brook’s junior goalkeeper Emerson Richmond Burke who could only watch as Picicci found the back of the net for the second time that afternoon.
The tag-team of Guarente and Picicci didn’t stop there. A minute later, Picicci once again placed a crosser off her leg, arching the ball over a horde of Seawolves. Before it could even land Guarente elevated her leg and poked the ball into Burke’s post for a nearly identical goal to give UNH a 3-0 lead before Stony Brook could blink.
“[The team] talked a lot about that, the ability to strike and then strike again within a two-minute window,” said UNH head coach Steve Welham. “You typically can let your guard down or you have to make sure you increase the tempo after you score or you get scored upon, and we capitalized in that window.”
The Wildcats cruised from that point on. Their suffocating defense erased almost any offensive chance. UNH senior goalkeeper Cat Sheppard snuffed out the few that snuck past the defense en route to her fourth shutout of the season, tying her for the third-most in the America East Conference.
Sunday’s three-goal performance was the Wildcats highest offensive output since their season opener on Aug. 19. Overall, Welham believed it was the most complete game the ‘Cats had played thus far this season on both sides of the ball.
“I mean, any game is going to ebb and flow. There are momentum changes here and there, but it was a really great performance, and we were able to execute. We were able to keep the ball when we needed to possess and ultimately get the all-important first goal,” explained Welham.
Welham is referencing Picicci’s first goal which saw her poke in a beautiful crosser from sophomore Anna Hewlett in the game’s 17th minute.
The win gives UNH three much-needed points in a tight America East where three points separate the ‘Cats and the third-place Hartford Hawks (7-2-2, 2-1-1).
“A huge win. There’s no question. The team stepped up the tempo. The intensity was there and the floodgates kind of opened up a little bit for us,” said Welham. “We felt that hopefully, this is a sign of things to come.”
Moving forward, The Wildcats will be without first-year athlete Abbie Burgess. While fighting with Stony Brook first-year midfielder Morgan Elliot, Burgess went down to the ground and was helped off the field by the athletic trainers.
The severity of the injury is still unclear until further scans but, “it doesn’t look great now” and if Burgess is out for the season it will be a “huge” loss, said Welham.
“Abbie’s a physically strong, powerful forward. She can stress the opposing defensive line and give the midfield more room to play centrally,” Welham said. “We know she’ll be back, and she’ll be better than ever.”
Burgess has appeared in all 11 games this season, starting seven of them. She’ll leave the team second in shots with one goal recorded.
Sunday’s game also represented a homecoming of sorts for Welham. Before becoming UNH’s head honcho, Welham coached at Stony Brook for eight seasons, working his way up from assistant coach in 2006 to associate head coach in 2009 before arriving in Durham.
“[Stony Brook] was obviously a great place and a special time, but you move on and there isn’t anywhere else you’d want to be other than Wildcat country,” said Welham.
UNH will try to create a winning streak Sunday, Oct. 10 as they host the UMBC (4-5-2, 1-3) at Wildcat Stadium.
“This will be a battle. Every conference game is always a battle but now everything gets ratcheted up a couple of notches because you’re getting to the back-end part of the conference season,” Welham said. “Points are going to be a premium. We expect a huge battle Sunday with these guys, and we can’t wait for it.”
Photo courtesy of Rick Wilson