Carnegie Mellon Claim Sweet Sixteen Spot

Carnegie Mellon women’s soccer sped past the first and second rounds of the NCAA Division III tournament with two pacey performances against Cabrini College and SUNY-Oneonta. The Tartans advanced to the Round of 16, where they’ll face Calvin College at a time and place to be determined.

The two defenses struggled all weekend to catch up with a quick Carnegie Mellon team full of fitness. Tartan fullbacks worked the wide areas in their first round match against Cabrini and tired out the Cavaliers by halftime. With Cabrini gassed, Carnegie Mellon coach Yon Struble moved to a more direct approach. Four second half goals came from straightforward runs into the box, wrapping up a 5-0 opening act.

Oneonta matched the Tartans energy in the second round for the full 90 minutes. The high-intensity of the Red Dragons rattled the fifth-ranked team in the nation for stretches of the game and prevented Carnegie Mellon from flying around the pitch. However, once the match reached extra time, the Tartans superior conditioning proved the difference. An in-form Sienna Stritter soared past an Oneonta defender and rounded the keeper for the golden goal.

Stritter opened her tournament account a half hour into the Cabrini match on Saturday thanks to a goalkeeper error. Alivia Dietsch was caught too far out of her cage and the sophomore poked the ball into an open net.

Stritter’s second was much more legitimate and ignited the Tartans tour de force in the second half. She drove into the penalty area and lifted the shot into the top corner on 50 minutes. Cabrini was desperate to stop Carneige Mellon from running all over them and tried to implement an offside trap.

That trap failed miserably as the irresponsibly high line opened the floodgates. Morgan Kontor’s cross on 68 minutes floated to the back post, where Alli McGugan touched it home. Two goals from Nicole Winegardner rounded out the performance. Megan Bartoshuk worked her way out of the corner to provide the service for Winegardner’s powerful header on 80 minutes. A simple finish from a rebound two minutes later closed the scoring for the night.

Carnegie Mellon relied on their resilient defense on Sunday against Oneonta. The Tartans have conceded just 8 goals in 19 matches, with their second round win marking their 12th clean sheet. Their midfielders were first to most of the 50/50 balls, allowing them to keep the majority of possession in the first half. Any possible threat was instantly booted away by sweeper keeper Katie Liston.

A scrappy game looked to be heading towards penalties based on the lack of chances created by both teams. Stritter stepped up for the Tartans two minutes into extra time to quell that possibility. Her third goal in two days equaled her total from the entire regular season.

The Round of 16 will be where Carnegie Mellon’s challenge truly begins. Their 16-2 season last year ended with a Sweet Sixteen exit to John Hopkins in penalties. The speed and toughness they demonstrated over the weekend will be qualities they have to keep displaying for a potential championship run.

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Oregon State Outlasts Defiant Duquesne

No. 12 Oregon State overcame jetlag and an unrelenting Duquesne squad to squeeze out a 3-2 victory on top the Bluff. A Dukes penalty on 89 minutes ended up being the difference, a decision that was greeted harshly by a dedicated student section backed by members of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds’ Steel Army. Duquesne keeper Sam Frymier did everything in his power to keep the Beavers away from a third goal, but his save bounced right back to Timmy Mueller who drove home the rebound. Beavers head coach Steve Simmons will feel lucky that his nationally-ranked team remains undefeated (4-0) on the season.

The Dukes matched any challenge Oregon State presented for most of the match. A sluggish Beavers defense missing the toughness that shut out their first three opponents also helped the underdogs stay competitive.

Talisman Jordan Jones took the initiative on 27 minutes to break open the reserved opening stages for the Pac-12 program. Jones followed up his initial shot that hit the post to finish at point blank range. Duquesne went down a minute later to equalize. Oregon State’s nightmare in defense began when they couldn’t clear away the corner allowing Colin Phillips to take the chance.

Leading goal scorer Jones completed his brace right at the start of the second half. The sophomore sent a missile into the back of Frymier’s net on 50 minutes from just inside the penalty area. The captain Phillips wouldn’t be out-staged and answered with a double of his own. Beavers keeper Nolan Wirth left his cage on 58 minutes and the Ontarian capitalized on the empty goal. Phillips continues to be the main source of offense for the Dukes contributing 4 of their 5 goals.

Oregon State started to assert their dominance in the final minutes. Frymier made a powerful save on Mueller on 84 minutes that kept the loud student crowd hopeful. That hope soured when referee Pete Lubinsky deemed that the contact on a Beavers attacker was enough to award a penalty. Mueller rescued the result to keep his team’s no. 12 ranking intact.

The match completed the first day of the Duquesne Invitational. Cleveland State edged Cornell also on a penalty that came in overtime. Oregon State will play this Sunday for the chance to take the trophy with them on the 3,000 mile flight. They face the Ivy Leaguers at 11 a.m. while Duquesne hosts Cleveland State at 3 p.m.

Women Fall Late To West Coast Opposition 

Duquesne women’s soccer couldn’t compound on a successful trip to New Jersey last weekend and lost 2-1 in overtime to UC-Santa Barbara. Mallory Hromatko’s curling strike on 97 minutes made the journey east worth while for the Gauchos.

A scoreless affair picked up with 5 minutes remaining in the second half. Pitt transfer Malea Fabean changed that when she opened the scoring for the Dukes. Santa Cruz charged right back as Chace Schornstein found the equalizer that forced Extra Time.

The loss means a developing Duquesne program drops to 4-2 on the season. They will want a quick bounce back against Cincinnati this Sunday. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.

Lawrence Leads Mountaineers to Demolition of Dukes

15th ranked West Virginia Women’s Soccer outclassed Duquesne 5-0 in front of an atmospheric Morgantown crowd at Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium. Women’s World Cup goal scorer Ashley Lawrence proved too much for the Dukes’ defense as the Canadian’s goal and assist led her team to an impressive home debut.

Lawrence facilitated the opening goal by playing a pass that sent Kailey Utley in on goal. Utley coolly finished past Duquesne keeper Vanessa Perdomo in the third minute for her third goal of the season.

Lawrence then wrapped up the scoring during a sudden downpour that greeted the start of the second half. The junior from Toronto was able to spot Nia Gordon’s cross among the heavy rain and put the empathic stamp on the match.

The win completed a much-needed dominant weekend by the Mountaineers after beginning their season by falling to ninth ranked Virginia Tech at the Hoosier Classic in Bloomington, Indiana. West Virginia responded to that loss by defeating a tough Maryland team 1-0 on the road last Friday. The annihilation of Duquesne secured their top 15 standing before a heavyweight matchup with sixth ranked Penn State next Friday in Morgantown.

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West Virginia quickly built upon the opening goal a minute later when the freshman Gordon held off a Duquesne defender to finish Carla Portillo’s through ball.

Utley was unleashed again on the left side by Lawrence on 16 minutes, but this time the senior squared to Michaela Abam who capped off the well-worked goal.

The Mountaineer’s musket ceased firing for the first half when on 28 minutes a galloping right-sided run by Amandine Pierre-Louis led her past the Dukes’ back line. Quebec’s Pierre-Louis had plenty of time to flick into the lower left corner.

The rain combined with Mountaineers head coach Nikki Izzo-Brown resting her stars Lawrence and Women’s World Cup Young Player Award winner Kadeisha Buchanan contributed to a slower second half. Most of the West Virginia faithful persevered the weather to see out the win and sing “Country Roads” afterwards.

Duquesne suffered a reality check after spirits were high from winning the Steel City Classic last weekend. Head coach Al Alvine will struggle to find any positives from the drubbing with his team on the back foot for the full 90 minutes. One bright spot was goalkeeper Kyra Murphy who replaced Perdomo in the second half to offer some damage control. The freshman compiled on a solid Steel City Classic by making some late saves that kept the Mountaineers at five.

Preparing to Pounce

The 2015 season for Pitt Women’s Soccer began with Head Coach Greg Miller barking instructions. “Higher! Higher!” he shouted to encourage his girls to press up the field and play a fast-paced style of soccer.

This high-intensity focus shows that Miller is aware that expectations are now attached to this program. Pitt picked up their first ACC victories last season by beating Syracuse and North Carolina State back-to-back on the road. It proved that the Panthers could be competitive in the best soccer conference. Now Miller urges them forward to their next step.

Pitt Women kicked off that next step last weekend in the Steel City Classic at Duquesne University’s Rooney Field. The team impressed with their high-pressure style and produced a barrage of shots on their opponents’ goal. Saint Francis’s German goalkeeper Romina Kunze contributed to a disappointing 1-1 draw however in Pitt’s opener. Kunze recorded 26 saves after the Panthers set a program record with 31 shots on goal, failing to convert those chances into a win.

Those chances came good last Sunday when the Panthers dominated Robert Morris in a 6-0 victory. Miller reaped the rewards of his pressing as his team trapped Robert Morris in their defensive zone for the entire match. The Panthers passed the ball around the midfield quickly and fluidly. Pitt’s well-worked possession kept them in dangerous scoring positions and made the finishing practically automatic. Jarena Harmon found herself in the right spaces and notched a hat trick that started her freshman season in emphatic fashion. Pitt’s total control wasn’t enough though to win the Steel City Classic as Duquesne’s two wins saw them take the title away from their Forbes Avenue rivals.

The Panthers showed clear progress even though they couldn’t repeat as Steel City Classic champions. The biggest storyline going into the season for Pitt was how they were going to replace senior defenders Jaclyn Poucel and Riliegh McHugh who for so long were rock solid in the back line. That transition seams to be flawless so far as their replacements Seyla Perez and captain Siobhan McDonough made the all-tournament team. A fluke Saint Francis goal by Allison LaDuke was the only significant chance to get behind Perez all weekend. McDonough provided versatility in her new position on the right flank by joining the attack while still remaining strong in defense.

Miller also continues to add the talent that will integrate them into the ACC. The four-year head coach built upon a highly touted 2014 recruiting class by bringing in a group of freshmen that have instantly contributed. Harmon and Sarah Krause bring speed to the squad and along with senior Roosa Arvas make a formidable front three. Juliana Vazquez also looks to be a creative presence in the midfield that keeps the team’s fluidity.

Miller has constructed a core of young players that he hopes will close the gap between his team and the ACC powerhouses. This weekend proved that the Panthers are developing fast and prepared to take the challenge awaiting them head on. It won’t be really known if they can meet expectations until September 20th when they open ACC play against North Carolina State.

Debutants Lift Duquesne to Classic Title

Duquesne Women’s Soccer can claim to be the most captivating team of the weekend as well after 2-0 and 3-0 victories against Robert Morris and Saint Francis respectively. Freshmen Katie O’Connor and Kristen Kostopoulous efforts up front carried the Dukes to the tournament trophy on their home soil. The high school All-American O’Connor looks to be a budding star as opposing defenders found it impossible to stop her combination of speed and strength. O’Connor tallied the opening goal in the Robert Morris win and her endless energy pushed her teammate Kostopoulous towards two goals in the decisive result against Saint Francis.CNIMOSuWgAQ0F1t

The newcomers will have their first real collegiate test next Sunday when they battle FIFA Women’s World Cup Young Player Award winner Kadeisha Buchanan and her West Virginia defense in Morgantown.

Until Next Fall

The 2014 college soccer season came to a close without a storybook sunset. A spotless blue sky arched over the towering North Carolina pines in the distance. The midday sun beamed onto the field at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, NC, detailing each individual blade of grass. The temperature rose into the 50s and sent coats underneath the seats. Mother Nature summoned everything she had left to produce one last beautiful day for the beautiful game. It was a proper goodbye before the soccer passionate packed it up and headed indoors for the winter.

At the same time, the University of Virginia’s men’s soccer team were saying hello to their 7th College Cup. They defeated the UCLA Bruins in the final 4-2 on penalty kicks after the Cavaliers’ head coach George Gelnovatch saw his players execute his gameplan flawlessly. In order to stifle UCLA’s quick passing, the Cavaliers spent the majority of the game with 10, and at times even 11, men behind the ball. Virginia wanted penalty kicks from the beginning. The Cavaliers bend but don’t break tactics frustrated UCLA. The Bruins lost their composure and squandered clear chances. When the match came down to PKs, the Bruins already defeated themselves mentally. Two spot kicks rattled off the crossbar and the Cavaliers went back to Charlottesville with the trophy.

Yet for this cup final being a battle to the end between two of collegiate soccer’s powerhouse programs, match attendance barely crept past 8,000. To give this number some context, the average home attendance for Division I-FCS football is around 8,000 as well. While it might be unfair to compare college soccer to the moneymaking schemes of college football and college basketball, it still brings up a much more important question. Where exactly does collegiate soccer stand within the American soccer system?

If you even just have a passing interest in the United States men’s national team or the MLS, then you’ve probably heard the conversation about what American soccer needs to do in order to compete with the world’s best. These conversations however focus almost exclusively on expanding the professional game, while college soccer is left out of this dialogue. The MLS’s Homegrown Player Rule is making the leap from youth academies to the pros a more appealing option than going to college and maintaining amateur status for another four years. Europe is also beginning to notice soccer’s increase in popularity in the states and has started to take more kids overseas. College soccer is in jeopardy of becoming only a chance for student athletes to live out the final moments of their competitive soccer careers. Stepping-stones into the professional game are being found elsewhere and college soccer seems to exist outside of the American soccer pyramid.

So how can it be brought back into the fold? College soccer needs to look more attractive and student bodies around the country can play a big role in accomplishing this. The lazy Sunday atmosphere that accompanies college matches won’t cut it anymore. We need to get loud and show these players we care. Soccer is starting to build large followings on college campuses. Access to European matches is easier than it’s ever been. Students are picking clubs and learning more about the sport each day. This easy access has made us picky though. Why try to brave the cold and wind when we can watch the world’s top talent on our computer screens? This is a particular problem at my school, the University of Pittsburgh. Matchdays see huge gaps of empty bleachers at Ambrose Urbanic Field. Maybe this is because of specific circumstances related to my school like Cardiac Hill and indifference in general to our mediocre athletic programs. Still, I attended games at 10 schools this season and Duquesne was the only one that had a decent student turnout.

I’ve realized that the only way to develop an understanding of the game’s organic flow is to see it in person. Watching the game on a computer doesn’t show how players utilize space or the communication it takes to construct an organized back line. If you enjoy watching the Barclays Premier League on NBC and are looking to take this interest to the next step, then supporting your school’s team is the logical choice.

I’m also not going to act like I don’t know what us college students love to do. We like to get drunk and make asses of ourselves. Well, I’m presenting a way that we can do this and be constructive at the same time. Soccer support is all about being as obnoxious as possible. Drums, chants, and costumes are a few ideas to get your student section started. If we come together and give our schools legitimate fanbases, then young players might start believing that college soccer will prepare themselves for the atmospheres of the MLS and top leagues in Europe.

A spike in student turnout will help shine light on two very important things college soccer is doing to promote the sport in America. The college level is the first chance that European tactics can be infused into the American style of play. Many collegiate coaches rely on recruits from Germany and England to give their stateside players a deeper understanding of the game. Soccer pervades every aspect of European culture and kids learn how to play within a system from a young age. The American style, based on speed and individual skill, melds with the systematic adaptability of the Europeans to create a comprehensive product.

The other thing that college soccer is doing right is allowing this mixture of skill and system to be seen by impressionable eyes. Tickets to matches are free almost anywhere. It is a great way for the family to spend a Saturday. I was amazed by how fixated these young children were to the actual play. For these little soccer stars the college athletes are role models. They look on analyzing the proper technique and try to emulate it in the backyard.

Later when I look back on the 2014 college soccer season, my lasting impression will not be of Riggs Lennon’s Virginia teammates rushing the field to congratulate him for slotting home the decisive penalty in the College Cup final. Instead, it will come from a mid-season match between Saint Louis and George Mason in Fairfax, VA. A group of ten-year-old girls dressed up in their soccer uniforms unfold a large George Mason banner. Their tiny arms struggle to hold the banner up in the air and large chunks drag along the bleachers. Yet the girls are relentless in their passion for the game in front of them. They start a call and response. “GEORGE!”…… “MASON!” A boys youth team on the other side of the stands joins in. Together they make the only noise in the park. When next fall rolls around, take inspiration from these little girls and do your part in making sure the college level is a vital part of soccer becoming America’s sport of the future.