It took two dominant defensive performances and a clutch penalty shootout, but the Huskies are trending in the right direction for the first time this season, taking home two wins against ranked teams this weekend.
The first game was smooth sailing for UConn, as they cruised to a 2-0 win over No. 19 Old Dominion that didn’t really seem close.
The Huskies controlled the pace of play from the jump, with great distribution all match from the middle of the field, thanks largely to Kourtney Kennedy out of the back and Abby Gooderham out of the midfield. In the first quarter, the Huskies moved the ball towards the opposition’s goal, but couldn’t get a ton of solid opportunities. This didn’t matter a whole lot, though, as the defense didn’t allow the Monarchs to get a shot off the whole quarter.
The defense continued their stellar play into the second, highlighted by a crucial 2-on-1 stop in the shooting circle by Claire Jandewerth. She continued her big game with a goal just a few minutes later, with a strike to the bottom left of the net off of a penalty. There was a bit of a scare just at the end of the half, with a Nanna Eikman green card drawing a corner. The play that Old Dominion drew up seemed to throw off the defense for just a second, but Cheyenne Sprecher’s nice save kept the Monarchs at bay.
If UConn came out hot to start the game, they were on fire to start the second half. Mckenna Sergi ran the show, going on a run down the field before getting fouled. After the whistle blew, she quickly reset and kept moving, making her way just inside the shooting circle. She blasted one from deep that found the inside of the net to make it a 2-0 game just two minutes into the half.
After that score, the Monarchs woke up a little bit, creating six more shots in the second half than they did in the first. Despite the game being a little more even after the second score, the Huskies asserted who the top dogs were by making plenty of more opportunities for themselves while shutting out their Big East rival. For a team that has had a very tough schedule to start the year, this was a great start to conference play.
“[the strength of schedule] enabled us to really acclimatize ourselves to that high-caliber play. When we come into that conference play, it allows us to play a little quicker than they do, which I think really helped us today,”said Head Coach, Paul Caddy
The second game against No. 13 Harvard was a lot more intense, with the Crimson matching the Huskies every step of the way in this back-and-forth affair. The back line of Aiyi Young, Lindsay Dickinson, Kourtney Kennedy, Claire Jandewerth and goalie Cheyenne Sprecher did a fantastic job keeping Harvard at bay for 60 minutes of regulation and 20 of two overtime periods.
For every quarter that one team controlled, the other dominated the next. In the first, Harvard came out on fire, immediately forcing a penalty corner that bounced around outside the cage, almost sneaking in before getting cleared by the defense. The Crimson put up the only shots of the quarter, with three opportunities.
The third quarter was the biggest for the Huskies, as they generated five corners, a few of them barely missing the back of the net, thanks to a couple diving saves from Harvard keeper Ellie Shahbo.
In the fourth, the Crimson looked as though they were about to put the game away, with a 1-v-1 opportunity against Sprecher. The attacker crumbled under the pressure Sprecher created, missing wide right by a large margin.
The first overtime period was scary for the Huskies, as Harvard maintained possession for most of the 10 minute stretch. The team took three shots while UConn couldn’t get much going offensively. In the second, the script was flipped, with the Huskies applying a ton of pressure. In the last few minutes, Sophia Ugo intercepted a back pass inside the shooting circle, but Shahbo was there to make the save.
After 80 minutes, it was time for the penalty shootout. Sprecher was stellar in net, stopping four out of five of the Crimson’s shots, including the last four. Young was the offensive hero in this contest, putting away the second goal to put the Huskies up for good.
After this massive weekend, UConn rises to 4-4, and is sure to climb in the national rankings this week. After starting out the season slow with a couple tough, close losses against high-quality opponents, this turnaround is just what the Huskies needed, especially as they prepare for a tough road trip this weekend.
“This is like a springboard forward, and I think we’re all really pumped after these two wins, that’s really what our focus was this week. We’ve learned not to focus on the future, [moreso] the moment, so we can put this behind us and now focus on these two upcoming games,” Young said after the game.