By Michael Battista
The women’s soccer team’s quest for a fourth NCAA Division III title started last week when the team hosted the opening two rounds of competition at the Soccer Complex. With their newly earned No. 1 ranking in the United Soccer Coaches Division III poll, the Lions notched up two clean wins. The first win was against Roger Williams University on Saturday, Nov. 11, and the second against Virginia Wesleyan College Sunday, Nov. 12.
Senior forward Christine Levering said that while the wins are great, the team needs to look toward the next game.
“It’s a one-game season at this point,” Levering said. “Every single game, we can’t look forward to games later on. We have to focus on each game.”
The team’s offensive dominance could been seen in both matchups — neither the Hawks nor the Marlins were able to take the ball deep into Lions terriorty through 90 minutes.
Within the first five minutes play against Roger Williams, the Hawks defense fell apart. Sophomore midfielder Taylor Nolan intercepted a deflection and scored to give her team the early lead. The visitors’ tendency to clump up and not spread out continued to be their downfall throughout the match.
With her team already ahead, the game became more than just a victory for Levering; she notched up a major accomplishment. In the 19th minute, off a long pass from sophomore defender Jen McGrogen, Levering slammed in a goal that tied her with the all-time goals record for the College at 58 with Traci Tapp (’98). It took less than two minutes for her to take the title for herself.
Senior midfielder Elizabeth Thoresen took the ball up the right side of the field and a well timed pass into the box found an open Levering who slammed the ball in from point blank for her 59th goal as a Lion.
“I’m just happy I could do it,” Levering said. “It’s just a testament to how hard this team has been working all year because obviously I can’t do it all myself. (My teammates) were there, they set me up, so I’m just happy I could get it done.”
Head coach Joe Russo said that he isn’t just proud of the accomplishment for the player, he’s happy for the girl behind the number.
“It’s well deserved,” Russo said. “I’ve said it before — as good of a player she is on the field, she’s a better person. She works hard. Everything that comes her way is well deserved.”
The Lions never let up on Roger Williams for the rest of the match, whose best offensive opportunity came off a set piece kick late in the first half while their first shot came ten minutes into the second. Roger Williams’ only shot on goal came in the 82nd minute, while the Lions had 17 during the match.
The next day, the team prepared for a Virginia Wesleyan squad that was coming off an impressive win against Tufts University on Saturday, 3-2.
Despite the scoreline and discrepancy in shots taken, with the Marlins only getting two off compared to the Lions 32 during regulation, the game saw most of the action fluctuate between the away team’s zone and midfield. Virginia Wesleyan’s defense kept the Lions away from the net and forced the team to take shots from far out.
“I thought we came out with a lot of energy and when we do that and have high pressure, the other teams tend to just not know what to do,” said senior midfielder Jessica Goldman.
The pressure hit a breakpoint for the Marlins in the 13th minute. Goldman sent a ball through an opening in the defense for a waiting Thoresen. The Virginia Wesleyan goalkeeper came out of the net but couldn’t stop a low shot that gave the Lions the lead, 1-0.
Thoresen said it was important to score early not only for her team, but to throw off their opponent.
“Once you get the ahead of a team, they just start to break down immediately,” Thoresen said. “It’s really hard, at this point in the tournament, to come back from being down.”
Following this and the consistent drives by the Lions, the Marlins attempted to spark their offense with multiple substitutions. Despite this, the College kept finding ways into the team’s box.
In the 24th minute, Thoresen thanked Goldman for her assist by giving her one of her own. Taking the ball up the side, a high cross found Goldman in the box where she sunk the shot.
Halftime didn’t do much to energize the Marlins, who let up a third goal in the 48th minute to Levering off another assist from Goldman. The seniors intercepted a ball in the box from a Virginia Wesleyan defender.
The remaining 42 minutes saw the Lions pull back and slow down, with the team making subs to rest starters and taking more shots from far out. An burst of energy from the Marlins saw the momentum shift into the Lions zone later on, but none of their players could get a shot on target.
The Lions earned hosting rights once again for the third round of the tournament, which will see the team take on Lynchburg College, the champions of the Old Dominion Athletic Conference, on Saturday, Nov. 18 at 11 a.m.
Russo says he isn’t paying attention to the rest of the bracket, which includes notable names such as MIT, Carnegie Mellon and Chicago University. Instead he’s only focusing on next Saturday.
“There’s only good teams left,” Russo said. “I couldn’t even tell you who’s still alive. It is what it is and we’ll be ready to play on Saturday.”