Huskies fall short of third straight title

The Northeastern University women's soccer team embraces following their season-ending match. Photo courtesy Jim Pierce, Northeastern Athletics.
The Northeastern University women's soccer team embraces following their season-ending match against Hofstra. Photo courtesy Jim Pierce, Northeastern Athletics.

Following a convincing defeat at home Oct. 29, Northeastern University women’s soccer traveled to Hempstead, New York, for the semi-finals and finals of the CAA tournament championship.

Despite defeating the second-seeded Drexel University Dragons 2-0 in the semis Friday, the Huskies were unable to take down the top-seeded Pride on Hofstra University’s home turf, falling just one goal short of a third straight CAA title.

In another win-or-go-home situation, the Huskies proved they were ready to challenge the Dragons, striking first against formidable senior goalkeeper Christiana Ogunsami, who registered a conference-high 20 saves against the Huskies in their first bout earlier in the season.

Fourth-year forward Carly Wilhelm controlled the ball on the left side of the box before sending a cross into the center of the box, where it ricocheted directly to third-year midfielder Lizzie George. George sent the ball into the top-left corner of the net in the 25th minute and gave the Red and Black a lead.

Head coach Ashley Phillips pulled George after the goal and sent in star third-year forward Hannah Rosenblatt. The team’s top scorer both this season and in 2016, Rosenblatt flexed her offensive muscle in the 30th minute, firing a low ball off a cross from fourth-year forward Taylor Caparo past Ogunsami and giving the Huskies a comfortable two-goal advantage that would hold until halftime.

The defensive reinforcements of first-years Julianne Ross and Mikenna McManus and third-years Valentina Soares-Gache and Eve Goulet put up another brilliant performance. Combined with the strong efforts of star third-year goalkeeper Nathalie Nidetch, they prevented any offensive attack from the normally-potent Dragons squad and preserved the 2-0 scoreline.

The Huskies took this three-game streak of victories into the teeth of the only hotter squad in the conference, the Hofstra Pride, who won 11 straight matches heading into the championship game. The Huskies, the highest-scoring offense in the CAA, knew they had a challenge ahead of them, with CAA Player of the Year Kristin Desmond and CAA Defensive Player of the Year Madeline Anderson anchoring the league’s most stringent defense. In their only other head-to-head contest of the season, the Pride stole a narrow 1-0 victory at Parsons Field.

From the first whistle, the Pride proved they meant business as first-year Lucy Porter popped a shot right past Nidetch in the second minute of the match. The Huskies would not let the early score faze them and responded with a goal of their own in the 16th minute. On a free-kick attempt, Soares-Gache fired a ball from midfield to the middle of the goalie box, where second-year midfielder Kerri Zerfoss headed the emphatic equalizer into the top of the net.

The Pride netted a second goal in similar fashion, as third-year Jenn Buoncore sent a header off the crossbar and into the goal off a free kick assist from third-year Monique Iannella in the 32nd minute. The score would remain going into the half.

In desperation mode, the Huskies searched for any offense to tie the game, narrowly missing on two close shots and pressuring the Pride back line till the very end. After 90 minutes, however, the Pride bench stormed the field to celebrate a hard-fought victory as the demoralized Huskies slowly made their way off the pitch.

Phillips comforted her players in the final post-game huddle of the season, emphasizing her pride in her team’s performance throughout the season.

“It was definitely a hard pill to swallow,” she said of the loss. “But I just made sure the girls knew how proud we are of them. We’ve definitely had our ups and downs this season, but we came a long way. They knew this season a lot would be expected from them after graduating such a large class, and we just have to stay positive considering how far we’ve gotten as a group, even if it wasn’t always as consistent as we had hoped for.”

Phillips commended the squad’s ability to overcome adversity among other attributes when highlighting the strongest skills this year’s team possessed.

“As a group, whether it was brought upon by ourselves or some other circumstances, we definitely showed our resilience this year,” she said. “We never gave up. We had fun. I think in such a demanding season if you’re able to have fun while putting in the work, the difference will show. We’re certainly proud of the culture they’ve helped us create here, because without that, it’s simply not as enjoyable.”

Despite facing the daunting task of replacing key upperclassmen, Phillips maintained a confidence that her returning players will tackle the challenge head-on.

“Four of the five graduating [players] are offensively-minded players and it’ll be a challenge to replicate that next season,” she noted. “I think we have some people on the team who might not fill their roles perfectly, but they can certainly step up to those roles and we can change our identity if need be.”

Phillips concluded with cautious optimism about next season, hoping to find pieces to complete the puzzle in a young class of new talent.

“It’s never easy to replace [players],” Phillips said. “But we’re going to have to find some players that will make the team tick. We’re going to try to rebuild in the spring and try to recreate the next Northeastern team, because every year is different.”

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