Photo by Cassandra Bauer
BY ADAM ROGAN
Still undefeated, Drake Women’s Soccer improved to 4-0- 1 on the season with narrow home wins over the University of South Dakota Coyotes and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) Panthers.
The hero of both games was sophomore forward Alyssa Brand, scoring the deciding goals early against South Dakota and in the closing minutes versus UWM.
Hosting South Dakota on Friday evening, both teams appeared evenly matched and looking to score.
The teams combined for 25 shots, each putting seven shots on goal. The Coyotes took three corner kicks while Drake had seven. Both teams had three shots come from bench players, two of which were on goal.
Despite all of the shots, only one goal was scored, and that decisive goal went to the Bulldogs.
Junior Hannah Wilder had a shot blocked in the 16th minute. Brand was ready when South Dakota’s goalkeeper was unable to hold onto the ball.
Junior goalkeeper Haley Morris recorded her second shutout of the season as well, having not allowed a goal in her first 255 minutes of 2016.
Two days later, it seemed as though the Panthers might break Drake’s untarnished record.
The Drake defense gave up its first goal of the season in the 29th minute, blowing Morris’ chances of claiming her third consecutive clean sheet.
Despite only recording one save in the match, Morris’ play— which included several diving stops and coming out near midfield at one point to clear an aggressive attack late in the second half —was instrumental to holding the Panthers to only one goal that day.
Since it was the first time Drake fell behind so far this season, their response would prove to be a test of character for the team. Senior midfielder Kayla Armstrong mentioned how important leadership is in these situations.
“It’s really important that our seniors step up,” Armstrong said. “Those next five minutes are vital to change the momentum.”
In response, the Bulldogs got aggressive, but didn’t record their first shot on goal until the 38th minute.
A corner kick from Drake junior defender Kasey Hurt was nearly cleared before junior Rachel Wanninger corralled the ball in the box. She found sophomore Tawny Carroll with an open window on net. Carroll beat the keeper with a ground shot, tying the match at one with less than eight minutes left in the half.
It was Carroll’s first career goal on her first shot of the season.
Drake almost took the lead on a last second corner from Hurt. Freshman Mariah Northrop took a shot from just in front of the goal, but Milwaukee goalkeeper Mallory Geurts made the save as time expired.
After only two shots on goal in the first half, the Bulldogs dominated the attacks in the second. UWM didn’t even have a shot in the final 60 minutes of play.
This was a testament to Drake’s bench-play and effort. Eight players came off the bench, including Carroll and Wanninger who connected for Drake’s first goal.
Freshmen Shelley Lyjak and Northrop each made contributions from off the bench, making hustle plays that led to Bulldog chances.
Entering the game, the Bulldogs’ roster was riddled with injuries as well as illness, leading the team to rely on its bench more than planned.
Drake senior forwards Alex Freeman and Rebecca Rodgers both went down with leg injuries during the game, further putting the emphasis on bench play.
Although the injuries gave subs more chances, losing Rodgers and Freeman for an extended period could be detrimental to Drake’s attack.
Freeman already has two goals this season after missing most of 2015 with an ACL injury, and Rodgers is the reigning conference player of the year.
Losing either player would force a serious shift in Drake’s offensive lineup, but head coach Lindsey Horner said that both of them shouldn’t be off the field for long, although it’s too early to say anything with certainty.
With Rodgers and Freeman benched, Brand had extra chances to be the one to give the Bulldogs their second win of the weekend.
In her second shot of the match, Brand delivered.
It seemed as though the game may have been pushed into overtime as neither side was able to put dangerous shots on net. With less than seven minutes remaining, a cross from Hurt was again nearly cleared before being floated back into the box where Brand took control of the ball and snuck it past the keeper and into the net, just inside the far post.
The Panthers squandered a late corner kick and the Bulldogs controlled possession through the final minutes on the way to a 2-1 victory.
Brand now leads the Bulldogs with three goals and seven points after returning from an ACL injury suffered at the end of last year. Despite missing the final games of 2015, Brand still had the second-most goals on the team with five last season.
“It’s such a privilege to be a part of the team, honestly,” Brand said. “(Coach) Lindsey has been doing a really good job managing my body and my minutes … I worked super hard over the summer at rehab in order to put myself into a position to be able to play.”
Drake will take its undefeated record to Annapolis, Maryland for matches against Navy and Towson University this weekend.