By Michael Battista
The women’s soccer team competed in two late-season classics last week at home, knocking off 5th-ranked Stevens Institute of Technology, 1-0, before coming back against Kean University and securing a dominant win, 5-1.
With two more New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) games remaining, coach Joe Russo said he never planned on letting some of his starters rest more during this game.
“Our mindset has always been from the beginning that if the game is on the schedule we’re gonna play to win and we’re gonna compete,” Russo said.
The 7th-ranked Lions came into the game against Stevens on Wednesday, Oct. 19, knowing the challenge that awaited them. The Ducks were 13-0, 6-0 in the Empire 8 Conference, and played soccer just the way a top-10 team should.
The Ducks showed their formidability, starting with the ball and charging downfield to get a shot off wide in just eight seconds. However the Lions struck back one minute later when senior midfielder Marissa Scognamiglio’s header shot went wide off the post.
Both teams are known for their offensive play and showed it, as the Ducks rattled off six shots during the first half while the Lions got off 10. The crowd of more than 400 was loud throughout, reacting at every chance and challenge. Junior defender Kelly Wieczerzak said that the team knew what it needed to do.
“We knew they were gonna be a tough challenge for us, but we were very well prepared for it,” Wieczerzak said. “I think we just know we needed to play our game and play to our strengths and that would be how we could get the ball around them, get forward and stay together.”
The College almost took a lead early on, as multiple shots rang out during the second minute. One strong kick from freshman midfielder Alexa Beatty seemed to get past the Ducks goalie, but the linesman called it offside.
Both teams traded the ball back and forth throughout the game. Senior goalkeeper Jessica Weeder racked up three saves as her teammates pushed back against the ravaging Ducks offense.
“The collected defending, the defending as a team, was very good,” Russo said. “I thought we were pretty well organized in the back… Jess Weeder was exceptionally good.”
In the end, junior midfielder Elizabeth Thoreson was the hero of the game. Early in the second half, she charged down field, off an assist from senior forward Christine Levering, the Ducks goalie came out to challenge. It was then Thoreson knew she had her.
“When she came out, I knew that she was beaten,” Thoreson said. “When a goalie comes out like that, especially that far out and with the angle I had, I just needed to be composed when taking the shot.”
The ball slowly trickled into the net, giving the team the 1-0 victory.
Next game saw the team up against NJAC foe Kean University. While the game against Stevens showed the Lions at their best, the team slowed down for the first 45 minutes of the Kean game.
While the Lions controlled the ball throughout the first half, the team was not able to score on any of its 12 shots and gave Kean the opportunity to get into a groove. With the game being sandwiched between two important games, with next week’s contest deciding who the top seed in the NJAC would be, Kean was set up to take down the Lions when they least expected it.
A foul by the College in the 27th minute allowed the Cougars a foul kick, which they were able to get passed Weeder in the upper left corner to put Kean up, 1-0. Russo would argue the call at first, believing the goal was indirect, or that the ball needed to touch another player before it entered the goal.
This was not the case, and the goal — which Russo later praised — stood.
After halftime, the Lions came out kicking from every area of the Cougar zone. Between the 50th and 55th minute, the Lions rattled off five goals to give them the lead, 5-1.
Junior defender Abigail Emmert was on fire as she blasted in two balls that came off previous attempts in the zone during the 50th and 54th minute, with the Kean goalie nearly stopping the second shot. Levering nailed in a cross from Thoreson in the 51st minute before firing off a bullet from 35 yards out in the 55th.
Kean shot four more times, but the Lions defense pushed them back.
Junior midfielder Kayla Bertolino nailed one more goal in before the second half ended. In the 71st, off a corner kick from freshman Callen Vandermay, Bertolino was able to sneak a header past the goalie after it deflected off a Kean player, giving the Lions the final goal in the 5-1 win.
On Wednesday, Oct. 26, the Lions will face NJAC second seed Rowan University in a rematch of last year’s NJAC Final. The game has playoff implications, as the winner will determine who is the top seed in the conference going into the playoffs. The team will also honor their senior players that night in a ceremony starting before the 6 p.m. kickoff.
Thoreson said she can’t wait.
“The games are starting to get really competitive and really hard, very important and high stake games, and this is where the fun starts for us,” Thoreson said.