Saturday, September 24, 2022

Women’s soccer opens strong, wins four straight

By Liam Sample

After a bitter 0-3 loss to the Cortland Red Dragons in the SUNYAC semi-finals last season, the Plattsburgh State women’s soccer team started its 2022 effort with fire. The team began their season with four straight shutout wins, their best start since 2018. They now boast a 4-1 record. It was announced by United Soccer Coaches Sept. 13 that the team debuted as No. 23 in the first national poll of the season, the only SUNY college to appear on the poll. It’s the first time the program has been nationally ranked since 2018. 

Recently, they were tested by two tough opponents: the Skidmore Thoroughbreds Sept. 4 and the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Engineers Sept. 7, where they put together a one and two goal win respectively. Both games took place at the Field House Soccer Complex, where the energy was high for the new season. 

Last season, the Cardinals started off 2-1-2 in their first five and rallied to finish with a 12-4-2 overall record. The hot start this season has been exciting for the team, who are trying to keep the momentum alive. 

 “We’re definitely off to a good start and I think that’s reflected in our record, but that record doesn’t say all of it,” senior goalkeeper Julia Ennis said. “We’ve put in a lot of hard work throughout preseason, the first practices we’ve had, and there’s a lot of unfinished business still.”

Less than 24 hours after beating the Russell Sage Gators 3-0, the Cardinals played a different style of soccer than they were accustomed to against the defensive Thoroughbreds, who under longtime head coach Lacey Largeteau, allowed just over a goal a game last season and came into the game following a 4-0 statement win over the Castleton Spartans the day prior.

In the first half,  both teams battled and headed to the break even at six shots a piece. This was a different style of play for Plattsburgh, who were forced to dig in for a defensive battle. Throughout the first four games, the Cardinals have carried a potent offense under first year head coach Whitney Frary, averaging 12.5 shots and two goals a game.

“Games like that are obviously difficult and take a lot,” Ennis said. “On the defensive end, we had to dig deep and figure out how to keep the ball out of our net because any goal in a game like that could make or break us. We’ve seen in the past we kind of set the momentum and, thankfully, we ended up on the right side of that.” 

Coming into the second half, Plattsburgh started to increase the offensive energy. Just after the 51st minute, graduate student Kirsten Villemaire sent a centering pass into the goal box, where junior Avery Durgan landed a header that bounced off the crossbar and was cleared by the Skidmore defense. 

Another offensive opportunity was put together with just over 26 minutes remaining in the game. Villamaire, with possession in the near side of the offensive end, took a shot from just outside the penalty area that curved to the right corner of the net. First year goalkeeper Avery Rogers got a piece of it in the air to prevent the goal. The Cardinals followed this play with two subsequent corner kicks from graduate student Allison Seidman that both landed in the goal box and were not able to find redirection into the net.

 “When we’re not scoring and it’s tied, or let’s say we’re down, that pressure makes us sometimes go frantic. [We’re] just trying to maintain a sense of calmness on the field and being composed,” junior and captain Nora Fitzgerald said. “That’s the strength of our team, when we are composed.”

With time dwindling down, Plattsburgh finally got their fortunate bounce. With 10:25 left in the game, Seidman was awarded another corner. After this one landed just outside the goal box, the opposing defense attempted a clear, which came down right in front of junior Samantha Rachon in the penalty arc. Without hesitation, she shot the ball out of the air, bouncing it off the bottom of the crossbar into the net to break the standstill.

Rachon, who played her first year at the Division II Robert Wesleyan College and scored one goal in her four games there, joined the Plattsburgh team last season and also played four games at defense. With a bigger role this season, she chose a clutch moment to score her first Cardinal goal.

Villemaire mentioned how frustrating the game was on offense up until this point, adding how a number of her teammates hit the crossbar and the goalie having some great saves. She said the team had to dig deep to finally get the goal.

Plattsburgh maintained the shutout throughout the final minutes of the game and finished the game allowing twelve shots, while tallying 13 of their own. Ennis earned the win, saving four and improving to 2-0 with both being shutouts. Skidmore split the halves between Rogers, who earned the loss, and Junior Claire Wolgast. The pair made five combined saves.

“I feel like if we lost that game, obviously a loss sucks, but it could have really put us off to a different start to the season,”  Villemaire added.  “It would have kind of put a damper on the season right from the start.”

After a thrilling 1-0 win, Plattsburgh looked to continue their win streak just three days later against RPI. Last season, these teams played Sept. 4, 2021, which resulted in a 1-1 tie after two overtime periods. 

This time was different, as Plattsburgh found their stride swiftly. It began when the team tallied a shot right after the two- minute mark. Six minutes later, Seidman hit the top of the crossbar on a shot from outside the penalty arc. Only a few moments after this chance, the Cards lined up for a corner kick where sophomore Sophia Hatziyianis took a shot amid chaos inside the box that bounced off the post. 

The Cardinals capitalized on the early momentum right before the 15-minute mark. After an attempted clear from RPI was headed back the other way by the Cardinal defense, graduate student Sam Spear deflected it forward for Villemaire. With little space to work with and two defenders to get past, Villemaire went to work, briefly bringing the ball to a complete stop then moving it over to her other foot with speed. Once she quickly got into the arc, she took a low shot that beat the goalkeeper, giving her team the early 1-0 lead. Last season, she tallied nine goals, the second highest total on the team. She begins her graduate year with two goals in four games.

Villemaire spoke of how RPI is always a tough matchup, but they didn’t come in as intense and aggressive as they typically have been in the past. She mentioned how this matchup differed from the early season, where the team was getting stronger as the game went on. In this one, she felt Platsburgh came out hot, only for RPI, in her words, “to put it to us” in the second half.

The Cardinals would strike once more before the second half, with a highlight reel goal from Fitzgerald. The junior, who had stepped up to make a slew of important defensive plays already, made another en route to scoring. 

With RPI pressuring and sending a dangerous pass deep into Plattsburgh’s zone, Fitzgerald got into the air with a header that she chased upfield. After splitting a pair of Engineers, she turned on the jets to race the ball into the offensive zone. The defender dribbled to the far side and took a shot on the penalty area line into the other side of the net, capping off a coast to coast possession. Fitzgerald brings her goal total up to two on the season, tying the team lead.

“I was just trying to break free, so I could find a good pass and I heard Coach [Frary] in the back saying just keep going. I was waiting for one of them [RPI] to step to me so I can slot it and the more I went, the more the lane opened,” Fitzgerald said. “I felt good to finally complete it. I went back the next day and looked at it, I didn’t even realize it was off the header. I had no idea. I kind of just blacked out at the moment.”

The Cardinals went into the break with a 2-0 lead, while taking 11 shots compared to RPI’s four. Junior Megan Wampner started in net for the Engineers and made two saves. She was relieved in the second half by sophomore Sierra Skelding, who did not allow a goal while saving one shot.

Sophomore Lauren Haley started for the Cardinals, who won in her first collegiate start against Russell Sage without making a save. This start came with much more challenges, as despite RPI’s slow first half, they adjusted to create many chances throughout the second half.

Haley came up big many times, including just over five minutes into the half. First year forward Sarah Sedlacek had a one-on-one opportunity with the goalkeeper, where Haley made an excellent low save. 

With less than 20 minutes left, graduate student Sonya Heldman had control of the ball on the near side of the penalty area. She attempted the centering pass into the goal area, where it was Haley who dove into the passing lane to prevent the goal. The sophomore finished the game with six saves, the first six of her collegiate career. 

Ennis said this game was a reflection of the team’s depth, especially with having a sophomore goalkeeper in net and the strong back line showing up. Even in shaky moments, she felt the defense proved nobody was scoring.  

Despite the nine-shot half and 11 total throughout the game, RPI would be kept off the score sheet and fell to an 0-2-1 record to begin their season. Plattsburgh finished with 13 shots in an all around team win. 

With conference play coming up quickly, the Cardinals had one final test, as they played the Middlebury Panthers on Wednesday, Sept 14, who they lost to 0-3 last season. With Plattsburgh hosting the matchup this year, they went on to lose 2-0 in plucky fashion. A consequential moment came in the final moments of the game when Villemaire was given a red card on a seemingly controversial call, with the graduate student and Coach Frary immediately expressing displeasure with the referee. This call puts her playing status unlikely in the team’s upcoming SUNYAC debut.

When asked about conference games, the players all echoed a similar message: staying focused and taking it game by game. 

“Our motto this season is just taking it game by game,’’ said Fitzgerald. “We just have to show up for these games, the rest will follow. I think it’s just very important for us being mentally there because we are all talented enough physically to do it, the hard part is staying focused throughout.”

Despite the excellent start to the season, both Fitzgerald and Villemaire mentioned the importance of practices this week. Fitzgerald strived how the way the team practices will reflect the way they play and that they need to work on putting two halves together. Villemaire talked of how there is an outcome this week and said the team needs these practices. 

Ennis said how early in the week, the team wasn’t looking at conference play and was getting mentally and physically prepared for the Middlebury game. 

Plattsburgh’s SUNYAC opener will take place at the Field House Soccer Complex Sept. 17, as the team looks for revenge against Cortland, who are 3-0-2 coming into conference play. The Cardinals were 7-2 in conference games last season and, with many of the players in their final season, the stakes for success are high. 

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