Story and Photos by Matt St. Jean
SYRACUSE, N.Y. --- The Orange Women's Soccer team hosted the 14th ranked UCONN Huskies for their home opener. The underdog Orange managed to obtain a point from the match, tying the Huskies 1-1 in a two-overtime grind.
The Orange women notched a 75th minute goal to take a one-nil lead. However, they were unable to hold the lead long as the Huskies scored four minutes later.
"We had good spells, but [UCONN] did a really nice job of putting us under pressure," Syracuse head coach Phil Wheddon said. "We'll take a point against them, but we would have much rather had three."
Fresh off a two-nil victory over the Bucknell Bison this past Friday, the Syracuse Orange Women's Soccer team laced up its cleats to take on a much tougher opponent in the ranked Huskies.
The former Big East rivals have had a a one-sided past as UCONN holds a 18-1-1 record against the Orange. Coach Wheddon emphasized having a top-ranked side this early season is beneficial to the team's development.
"UCONN's a very good team, they're always in the NCAA tournament, and that's why we're playing them." Wheddon said.
Defense Steps Up in First Half
Right out of the gate UCONN showed why it is ranked in the top 25 of the United Soccer Coaches Poll. The Huskies maintained calm possession of the ball in the midfield and on several occasions in the first 15 minutes had solid looks at the net. Goalkeeper Courtney Brosnan put a stop to the attempts, but the pace of the game looked to be to UCONN's advantage.
Syracuse's defensive trio of Shannon Aviza, Tayor Bennett, and Jessica Vigna hunkered down and made clean tackles. UCONN had three shots on target in the first 15 minutes and just one for the remainder of the opening half.
Offensively, the Orange had difficulty maintaining possession in the middle of the field and as a result, created few quality chances at the enemy net.
"They out-competed us for the first 45 minutes," Wheddon said. "We didn't settle down and get into a rhythm, they were quite direct in the way they played."
Despite the quality build up in the midfield, the Huskies couldn't break through the back lines of Syracuse and the teams went into the dressing rooms in a scoreless tie at the half.
The Pace Quickens
Similar to the beginning of the first half, the Huskies came out firing on all cylinders in the second, hunting for the go-ahead goal. Again, the Syracuse defense was up to the task. Brosnan made several diving stops and Vigna seemed to be all over the field putting a halt to UCONN's progress.
"They had a lot of good players up top, a lot of speed, they were very physical," Brosnan said. "It was important for us to keep our marks and communication helps with that."
Stopping the initial onslaught from UCONN, the Orange began to find some rhythm. Wing backs, Eva Gordon and Alana O'Neill sprinted up and down their respective sidelines providing outlets for the defense and advancing the ball deep into the UCONN half of the field.
Scoreboard Lights Up
Syracuse began to mount consistent attacks on the Husky defense and the momentum began to shift. In the 75th minute, Alex Lamontagne received a pass from Sheridan Street right in front of the net. Lamontagne's first attempt was stopped by UCONN keeper Mollie Kerrigan, but the rebound came right back to her and the second time, she didn't miss.
"I tried to volley it and [Kerrigan] saved it." Lamontagne said. "I just tried to blast it again right past her. Got to go in somehow, so I made sure it went in."
Down one, the Huskies responded quickly. Four minutes after Syracuse's goal, UCONN's Tanya Altrui broke free at the top of the box and delivered a perfectly weighted pass to a cutting Zoe Steck, who buried a shot in the back of the net to knot the game at one.
After 90 minutes of physical, fast-paced soccer, the teams readied for two 10-minute sudden death periods. UCONN was again the aggressor coming out of the break. The Huskies put the Orange on its heels for nearly the entire extra 20 minutes.
In one of the three corner kicks the Huskies won, the ball came curling into the middle and bounced to the foot of Steck. As she prepared to fire a game-winning rocket, Brosnan came across the goal and with an outstretched hand deflected the ball, saving the tie for the Orange.
"It was just reaction, just instinct, to keep the ball from going into the back of the net." Brosnan said.
The Huskies out-shot the Orange six to one in the two extra time periods, but none of the attempts succeeded and the game ended in a one-one draw.
While he wanted the win, Wheddon said he was encouraged by his team's play.
"I thought as the game went on we became more and more competitive and we matched them physically," Wheddon said. "I applaud our players for really gutting it out to get a point out of this game."
Up Next for the Orange
On Thursday, the Orange heads to West Point to face off against the Black Knights of Army. Army also holds a 1-0-1 record coming off a victory against Iona and a draw against UMass-Lowell. In the last meeting between the two sides, Syracuse defeated Army at home, one-nil.