Five Huskies played the last home game of their UConn careers on Friday night, and it was one they won’t forget any time soon.
The UConn women’s soccer team (7-8-3) defeated Temple in dramatic fashion, 3-2, with all five goals coming in the wild second half. It was a night that began and ended with bittersweet celebration.
Seniors Tanya Altrui, Danielle Gottwik, Courtney Hofer, Faith McCarthy and Sabrina Toole were all honored before the match, all earned starts and their presence was very much felt throughout.
“For the seniors, this was everything to us,” Toole said after the win. “Ending it on a win, especially in a game that went all the way to the end, was a big moment for us that we’ll always remember.”
McCarthy nearly got the Huskies on the board in the eighth minute, rifling a shot that hit crossbar. Hofer had a career first half, making a pair of astounding saves to keep the game scoreless.
Although the first half was a scoreless battle, it seemed only a matter of time before multiple goals found the back of the net. Less than a minute into the second, the Owls did just that.
Temple senior Elana Falcone momentarily hijacked the senior night, taking advantage of a UConn defensive lapse and giving the Owls a 1-0 lead.
Ten minutes later, junior Vivien Beil notched her fifth goal of the season, and it was likely the best one yet. Beil curled a shot from 20 yards out into the top right corner, tying the match at one.
In the 62nd minute, Toole, who also sung the national anthem prior to the game, made sure her senior night was a memorable one. The Huskies earned a corner kick and elected Beil to take it. As she has done throughout the season, Toole read the defense perfectly on the corner, finding open space at the near post and heading home the goal, giving UConn a 2-1 lead.
The Owls responded with a corner kick goal of their own, beginning with a stellar kick from Kayla Cunningham and finished off by Kerri McGinley. That 2-2 score would hold for nearly 20 minutes and, just as it seemed overtime was inevitable, the Huskies found the dagger.
With less than two minutes remaining in regulation, junior Elena Santos delivered with a precise through ball, beating the Temple defense. Once again, Beil did the rest, beating the Temple goalie for the game-winner as the stands and bench erupted in triumph.
Hofer finished with a career-high nine saves, Toole scored her fourth goal of the season, McCarthy was inches away from a goal of her own and both Gottwik and Altrui paced the UConn attack early. Overall, quite a successful night for the five seniors.
Perhaps even more important than contributing on the pitch, the seniors have played an invaluable role as leaders on what is a young and inexperienced team.
That leadership will be tested now more than ever, as the Huskies begin post-season play in the American Athletic Conference Championship. After a five-win slate against conference opponents, the Huskies enter the tournament as a five-seed.
UConn’s first opponent will be fourth-seeded Memphis. The Tigers defeated the Huskies 3-2 on October 8th, a game in which UConn controlled most of regulation but couldn’t overcome two early goals from Memphis. The match is set for Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Orlando.
For some players on the team, it’ll be their first taste of post-season play at the college level. For the talented group of seniors, it’s nothing new, and they’re not ready for their collegiate careers to end quite yet.