On paper, the UConn women’s soccer team had no business winning Thursday night against visiting Arkansas. The scoreboard says otherwise.
The Huskies (2-3-1) defeated the Razorbacks (4-3) in overtime by a score of 2-1 on freshman Kess Elmore’s game-winning goal off a Vivien Beil assist. As UConn players swarmed Elmore in celebration, the Razorbacks looked stunned. It was UConn’s first win over an SEC team since beating Georgia in 2002.
The first half was a relatively balanced affair. In the 36th minute, UConn sophomore Alexa Casimiro broke the tie, settling the ball in the box, pivoting and lobbing Arkansas goalie Rachel Harris for her first goal of the season. The Razorbacks had a slight halftime advantage in shots, 8-6, and corner kicks, 6-2, but the Huskies entered the half with a 1-0 lead.
The second half, on the other hand, was as lopsided a half as UConn will play all season. Arkansas controlled the pace and possession from the opening minutes, pinning UConn in their back third for nearly the entire half. The Razorbacks recorded 15 shots and eight corner kicks in the second half alone, compared to one shot and one corner kick for the Huskies.
With 34 minutes remaining, Arkansas’ leading scorer Parker Goins scored the equalizer, and it seemed only a matter of time before the Razorbacks would seize the lead.
It never happened.
“We did a great job staying organized—and we also were lucky,” admitted head coach Len Tsantiris.
The Razorbacks had opportunity after opportunity, but were unable to deliver the final blow. UConn goalie Mollie Kerrigan did her part, recording nine saves, including a stellar leaping save midway through the half. The defense also stood tall, attacking aggressively and winning headers in the box. Yet Arkansas was firmly in control.
When the clock hit zero at the end of regulation, it seemed that escaping with a draw would be a success. But heading into overtime, the team had other plans.
“[Arkansas] gets very disorganized in the back because they push so many players forward,” said Tsantiris. “If we catch them on a counter, we can get goals.”
Patience is key in life, and soccer is no different. The Huskies dug their spikes in, withheld the Arkansas onslaught and waited for an opportunity to capitalize.
That opportunity came with less than two minutes remaining in the first overtime. UConn got out on a three vs. two break, with junior Beil leading the charge. After dribbling deep into Arkansas territory and drawing both defenders to her, she swung the ball out wide to Elmore, who took a touch and delivered a perfectly-placed shot to beat the goalie, giving UConn the stunning victory.
“I was wide open, Vivi did a great turn and I couldn’t have shouted louder,” said Elmore, who scored her third goal in the last two games. “She played me the ball, and then I was one-on-one with the keeper. I wasn’t going to miss from such short range…It was a surreal experience.”
The stat sheet shows 25-8 in shots and 15-4 in corner kicks; total domination by Arkansas. But on the scoreboard – the only numbers that matter – UConn walked off the pitch on top.
“Hard work is going to win our games the rest of the season. It’s a building year, and hard work has been the difference in all of the games we’ve lost and won,” said Casimiro. “These are the games where we find out if we can make it against the big teams. It’s a big win for us.”
For a team defined, and so far perhaps limited, by inexperience, UConn’s resiliency has been the true defining quality of the team.