UNH Women’s Soccer: Conference Tournament Preview

Joey Rizzi, Sports Writer

DURHAM, N.H. –  “What’s that? Ah – Playoffs? Don’t talk about – playoffs? You kidding me? Playoffs?”

Yes, Jim Mora, we’re talking about playoffs. 

The University of New Hampshire (UNH) Wildcats (8-5-2, 5-1-2) enter the America East semifinals as the two seed. The third-seeded UMaine Black Bears (9-2-5, 4-0-4) will challenge the Wildcats on Thursday and hope to follow a win over sixth-seeded NJIT with an upset at Wildcat Stadium. 

The Wildcats are looking for some revenge against the Black Bears. UNH was dominating early in the last rendition of the ‘Border Battle’ back on September 29th at Wildcat Stadium. Meghan Guarente tallied a goal in the second minute of the game, putting the ‘Cats in the driver’s seat early. 

Everything shifted dramatically when first-year defender Maddie Kolb drew a red card in the 52nd minute. UNH played with only 10 players for the remainder of the game and relied on the rest of the team, including keeper Cat Sheppard, to hold on to the lead. Despite a valiant effort, the Wildcats failed to close that game out, which resulted in a 1-1 draw. 

As aforementioned, UNH is seeded second in the America East, the highest they’ve ended since 2017 when they won the regular season title. They were, however, one second away from reclaiming that title once again. The Wildcats suffered a draw in the last second of their last regular season game against the UMass Lowell Riverhawks (7-7-4, 4-2-2). 

Graduate goalkeeper Cat Sheppard misplayed a deep ball from the midline and saw it cross the line a second before the 90 minutes were up. A tough end to a season that was exciting and overall positive. The play was so impressive and unexpected that it even ended up on Sports Center’s Top 10 Plays the next morning, clocking in at the #3 spot. 

One of UNH’s many bright spots this year has been the rise of Junior back Ella Dudley as a goal scorer. Ella has thrived in her three years as an important defender but has flourished recently in the attacking third. 

“I don’t think I’ve ever scored so much in any season ever of my career,” said Dudley. 

She’s certainly right about her college career. Ella came into the year with just two goals at UNH but tallied five goals and five assists in a brilliant 2022 campaign. Teammate Meghan Guarente also tallied five as the Sophomore forward tied Dudley for the lead in that category. 

“I’m very happy with the product that I’ve been putting out on the field,” said Guarente. “I think that there’s always room for improvement and obviously I’m still working very hard every single game to be consistent and keep scoring goals,” she continued. 

Of course, preventing goals has been an impressive feat this year for the Wildcats as well. Goalkeeper Cat Sheppard has started 14 of the 15 games this year despite suffering a leg injury in the second contest of the year against St. Francis of Brooklyn. 

The ‘Cats will lean on her strong play in the net and goal-scoring stars to give them a great chance at an America East tournament title. 

“We are locked in as a team. Day in and day out, every single practice,” said Guarente. “We’ve been preparing for this all season… and [want] to take what we feel we deserve”.

UNH will have to be locked in to defeat a hungry Black Bear squad on Thursday, November 3rd at Wildcat Stadium to earn a berth in the America East Championship on Sunday. Something they have a bitter taste with after last year’s finals loss to Vermont.