Having clinched the UAA conference title and an NCAA playoff berth, the Maroons defeated conference rivals Wash U 1-0, in a regular season game normally associated with deep conference and playoff implications.
Instead, the Maroons’ biggest motivator was simply beating Washington.
“The game against Wash U is one of the highlights of our season every year. The rivalry is there no matter what the stakes,” said third year keeper Emma Gormley.
The Maroons got on the board early with a brilliant goal by fourth-year striker Sarah Loh. Loh powered the ball in from 25 yards out in the 17th minute. It was her seventh goal of the season and her third game winner.
The goal left the only mark on what was a hotly contested first half, with the Maroons just barely out-shooting the Bears 8-6.
The second half was another story. The Bears came out on the offensive, having nothing to lose and needing a win to get into the NCAA tournament. They sent most of their players into the attack, hoping to squeeze one by the staunch Chicago defense, out-shooting the Maroons 11-2 in the second half, as well as having a 6-2 advantage in corner kicks.
“In the second half Washington University dominated the play as they had to find a way to score,” said head coach Amy Reifert. “They sent extra players forward and did a great job controlling the ball and the momentum. We did not lighten up at all, Washington just went into another gear.”
The Bears came close to equalizing the game several times, and two shots caromed off the post for the Bears, one only moments before the final whistle. Coach Reifert commended her team for its resilience when encountering a dangerous attack from the opposing side. “The ball hitting the crossbar is a wake up call for the team,” said coach Reifert. “Nothing is needed from me.”
The Bears’ attack was continually countered by one of the stingiest defenses in the NCAA, and the Maroons were able to hold off the attack and shut out the Bears in a dramatic 1-0 regular season finale win.
Reliance on defense has been an important theme for the Maroons this year. Of the eighteen games they have played, ten have been shutouts. The games that the Maroons have lost have all been decided by one goal. The Maroon defense has given up more than one goal in only one game, a contest in mid-September against Illinois Wesleyan in which the Maroons fell 2-1.
In the month of October, the Maroons gave up only three goals, a statistic which is overwhelming in and of itself, and made even more impressive by the fact that only one of those goals was given up in a losing effort.
According to Gormley, the defense is so good because it is not only the back line that defends. It is an entire team effort. “I think the number of shutouts we’ve racked up this season can be attributed in large part to the skill of our defensive line, but also to the defensive pressure that players in the midfield and up front provide. They stop a lot of attacks before they really even get started, which makes our life easier in the back” said Gormley.
Coach Reifert also complimented the tremendous play of her defensive squad. “Our defensive unit is really tremendous, they are brave, organized and work in pairs to make sure that we cover every angle and possibility [of scoring].” With regards to the two shots ricocheting off the post, Gormley conceded that sometimes “The post can be a keeper’s best friend.”
The Maroons are now set for another NCAA championship run. Coach Reifert has guided the team to the semi finals three times and the Maroons took second in 2003. The Maroons begin their push for another NCAA finals appearance against Wartburg College on November 12th at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa.