It’s safe to assume that this is not the way head coach Margaret Rodriguez envisioned the UConn women’s soccer’s conference opener would go. The hopes for the Huskies were high coming into the season, as they ranked third in the coaches’ poll, while St. John’s was ranked sixth. Evidently, thanks to great goalkeeper play by the Red Storm and a lack of offensive punch by UConn, St. John’s came out victorious.
The majority of the first half of action was uneventful, with excellent goalie play by both St. John’s Naya Lipkens and her counterpart, UConn’s Kaitlyn Mahoney. The two traded impressive saves for the first forty minutes of the opening half. Lipkens’ dominant first half was highlighted in the 18th minute by a one-handed save that stopped a ball going for the top right corner of the net. UConn rebounded the shot, but Lipkens stopped and corralled the second attempt. Mahoney’s signature moment came on a dangerous save in the 32nd minute, where the sophomore made a diving save that the UConn defense cleared.
The drought ended in the 43rd minute when St. John’s was awarded a corner kick. Junior midfielder Jessica Garziano positioned the ball in the perfect place for defender Shannon Aviza, who delivered it to defender Brooke Boyd, punching it in for the lead.
In the first minute of second half play, Zsani Kajan of St. John’s took the ball up inside the box and blasted a shot past freshman keeper MaryKate Ward, who was in her first minute of action. Less than ten minutes later on a breakaway, Garziano was driving down the right side of the field and crossed it to a wide-open Isabelle Aviza (Shannon’s sister), who found the back of the net to take a commanding three goal lead.
For the next 35 minutes of action, St. John’s shut things down defensively, only allowing minor errors that were confidently erased by Lipkens. The Huskies’ best opportunity came in the 82nd minute, when the Red Storm fouled UConn midfielder Joyce Rider. The foul looked to be in the box, but the ball was placed approximately three inches outside, turning a penalty kick into a free kick. The Huskies shot it right into the wall, coming up empty yet again. If the final nail hadn’t already entered the coffin, that was it — the Huskies had no other real opportunities for the rest of the game and lost 3-0.
Huskies skidding — At just the wrong time, UConn is trending in the wrong direction. The Huskies have lost three of their last four contests. In those games, they’ve been outscored 10-3. UConn has a golden opportunity this Thursday to get back in the win column against Seton Hall, who was ranked last in the conference this year.
An answer at the goalkeeper position? — For several games, I’ve questioned if the Huskies will ever make a decision about their goalkeeper battle, where Kaitlyn Mahoney and MaryKate Ward have been splitting minutes. As it turns out, the break seems to be the answer, as it looks like reps will be divided equally moving forward. Will this result in wins on the field? Only time will tell.
A goal-scorer is needed — The Huskies have been held scoreless in the past two games they’ve played against competition that should not be able to keep them off the board. UConn desperately needs someone to step up and put the ball in the net. The key player here will be Jessica Mazo, who has not been effective on the stat sheet since she returned from her four-game absence. The preseason all-Big East first team selectee will be critical to their success.
Staying cool — UConn is 4-1 in games where they score, and all of their losses have been by multiple goals. Once things start to get tough, the Huskies need someone to step up to keep things calm. They need to put themselves in a position to come back and get things done when they’re down, or this is going to be a long season.