Monday, September 24, 2007

Women's soccer takes home crown

Two weeks ago, the Davidson women's soccer team all migrated through Commons to some of the back tables and split into three different groups. I watched with curiosity as they turned away non-soccer friends and had one of the more intense meals I had ever seen.

I learned later that the seemingly arbitrary three groups corresponded, in fact, to the players' positions. The dinner was the brainchild of senior captains Nancy Haskell, Bevin English and Kristen Koerhn.

The Wildcats were coming off two consecutive losses at the hands of Air Force and Colorado College, dropping them to 1-4 through their first five games of the season. With only three more games before the start of the season's conference schedule, the Wildcats knew that they had to right the ship. Fast.

The first step came on Sunday, September 16 when Davidson played Mercer at Alumni Field. The offensive sluggishness that had seemed to plague Davidson throughout the first month of the season reared its ugly head in the first part of that game. The Wildcats only got off two shots in the first 60 minutes of play. When the goals finally came, they came quickly. Kyri Bye-Nagel, Lauren Conner and Amanda Flink all combined to punch home big shots and the 'Cats prevailed 3-1. The three goals combined to more than double Davidson's offensive output over its first five games.

With Davidson clinging to its one-game spurt of offensive efficiency, the 'Cats took the field against SEC foe Vanderbilt on last Friday's opener to the College of Charleston tournament. Any hopes of lingering effects of the Mercer win were seemingly dashed in the first 45 minutes of play.

The Davidson midfield was outhustled on every offensive push and the Wildcat defense was constantly on its heels as the Commodores continued to press their advantage. Although she gave up one first half goal, Bevin English was superb in goal stopping shot after shot. At halftime, it looked as though the 0-1 disadvantage would be insurmountable. Vanderbilt was just too fast, too physical.

I'm not one for putting huge merit into the effects of halftime speeches, but I'm sure that Greg Ashton must have said something pretty inspiring during the break. The Wildcats came out with a fiery vengeance in the second half and Vanderbilt didn't seem to know what hit them. Kyri Bye-Nagel provided the equalizer just five minutes into the second half, as she received a cross from Lauren Conner and put the shot where it couldn't be touched.

The Davidson midfield and defense responded with a new physicality that obviously frustrated the Commodores. Although Vanderbilt was able to get several more excellent shot opportunities, they could not find the touch and the Wildcats took the game into overtime. With the momentum obviously on their side, Davidson kept pressing the attack and was finally awarded with a corner kick for Nancy Haskell. Haskell fired the ball into the crowd where it found the head of Blakely Low who fired home the game-winner.

Sunday morning dawned bright for Davidson as they found themselves in an unusual position, playing for a tournament championship. The first half featured a hell-fire LSU attack (they had scored two goals in the first five minutes in their win over College of Charleston in the first game), but Davidson was able to repulse the Tigers with some well-timed headers from Nancy Haskell and some strategic positioning of the goalposts.

Davidson began to return LSU's ferocity in the midfield game, and right before halftime Courtney Hart was able to find the back of the net to give the Wildcats a 1-0 lead. As odd as it seemed to the entire LSU contingency in Charleston, Davidson was in control.

For a brief period, though, that control was put in limbo. With under five minutes to play in the first period, goalkeeper Bevin English collided with a Tiger forward in a mad scramble for a loose ball. English received an inadvertent kick to the back of her head and took her time to return to her feet. To the delight of English's hometown fans, she regained her stability and stayed in the game.

Halfway through the second half, after multiple LSU scoring threats were thwarted by the defense of Lauren Conner, Kristen Koerhn navigated her way up the Tiger baseline and sent a cross into the box. The ball found the heel of Conner who sent it ricocheting into the corner of the net. Davidson's lead was two and the SEC favorite was toast. Kyri Bye-Nagel added an insurance goal on a runaway and the shutout 3-0 score held.

For the Wildcats, it was a weekend of rejoicing after the long month of September. For the underclassmen, there was the realization that they could make a real impact on this team and lead it to victory. For the veterans, there was redemption and validation after they had repeatedly assured their mates of better things to come through grit and teamwork. For this Wildcat fan, it was just another opportunity to cheer on the little guy and see the reality of hope through sports. It was a great day to be a Wildcat.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You might note that the reason the midfield attitude changed at half in the Vanderbilt game and in the LSU game was because the personnel changed-- bigger more aggresive, tougher players replaced those passive ones