Having officially hit its stride, women's soccer slipped, slid, and ultimately ran circles around Concordia (Minnesota) Saturday afternoon in muddy conditions at home. With three well executed goals early, the Maroons cruised to their fourth straight victory and seventh straight game without a loss, defeating the Cobbers 3-1.
Third-year forward Renee Neuner opened the offensive downpour, finishing in front of the net on quick passes from third-year midfielder Randi Leppla and second-year midfielder Bridget Hogan. Neuner headed in her second goal on the day, and sixth in as many games, on third-year midfielder Jacqui De Leon's cross from the left endline.
"We have played a bit more direct on offense lately, which is exciting for me because I love to have the ball in front of me," Neuner said. "I get to put the ball in, but it's the midfield and the defense that do the dirty work. I thought our finishing on Saturday was great."
In fact, it was De Leon's running finish in the 27th minutethe Maroons' second goal of the daythat was the most impressive on the day and "one of the prettiest of the season," according to Neuner. She headed in third-year midfielder Monica Michelotti's cross from the right corner of the box with convincing authority. That playwhich produced their first points since September 8, before both missed the middle of the season with injurieswas particularly significant for the team, which depends on their ball skills and field vision in tough games.
"Jacqui had an amazing game, and it was great to see Monica back on the field," Neuner said.
"I felt that Concordia gave us some good competition, but our offense was really clicking that day," said first-year forward Christine Farmer, who created a couple scoring opportunities of her own early on. "We finished well, and I think we just had fun out there, letting the game come to us."
The swamp-like pitcha result of the morning's rainfall and double-overtime men's soccer game immediately priorforced the Maroons to make adjustments on both ends of the field. Players regularly lost their footing on the turf, and the ball skipped and died unpredictably on the turf.
On offense, the Maroons utilized the outside lanes more than usual, adjusting to both the field conditions and the Cobbers' sweeper. On defensewhere Chicago deserved a lot of credit for allowing only two shots on goalthe back four shifted their focus to covering each other on every play, ensuring that there was no last line that could fall victim to the mud. The only goal allowed was on an inadvertent deflection of a Concordia crossing pass by Chicago third-year defender Elise Aiken.
"The conditions were a huge factor. Ordinarily, we would play more of a finesse game against a team like the Cobbers, but because we could never be sure if our teammates could even stay on their feet, we had to change our game plan," said third-year defender Diana Connett, who played an aggressive air game despite mild tendonitis in her injured ankle. "Our outside midfielders did an outstanding job of winning and receiving balls, then playing an early cross that generated lots of chances in the box."
The Maroons' dominance on both ends has come at exactly the right time, as they now enter the critical home stretch. Despite having recovered their complete rosteraside from third-year defender Ellen Fitzgerald, who is recovering from surgery on her torn ACLand scoring touch, women's soccer rejects any notion that it will relax against Case Western (3-8-2, 0-4-0) Friday or Rochester (8-3-3, 2-2-0) Sunday.
"We definitely aren't overlooking the games this weekend; they're crucial to our overall success," Neuner said. "Rochester especially should be a good team, and we need to maintain intensity going into the weekend. We have to make sure we're each doing the little things that contribute to our success."
"Our entire team is both technically and physically ready to take on any team," said Connett. She added that mental preparation and drive will be key in the middle of fall quarter.
Now firing on all cylinders, Chicago is looking to take small steps in focal areas, improvements that could make a big difference down the line. Women's soccer returns home November 4 to face 13th-ranked DePauw (8-3-1) and then close the season against 19th-ranked Washington (12-2-0, 3-1-0) in a finale that could decide the conference championship. Last year, the Maroons lost their first game and the conference lead in the season's last game against Wash U. This year's squad has learned from last year's mistakes and is looking to maintain intensity against both easy and challenging teams.
"I think the team is definitely out of any slump that we might have been experiencing," Farmer said.
"For our games next week, we just need to keep working on the basics, and improve in any areas that we can. We just need to stay focused and make sure we don't look past anyone."