On a picture-perfect October Sunday, the University of Connecticut took on Villanova University in a game that was a must-win for the Huskies. Villanova came into the game with a 1-6 record in conference, which was good for last place, and essentially out of contention for the four-team playoff to qualify for the NCAA tournament. UConn, on the other hand, sat one game out of fourth place in a four-team race for the final spot. This game against the conference bottom-feeder was a critical contest to keep their postseason hopes alive.
Although the goals were limited in the first half, with no team scoring, there was still a fair bit of action from both sides early on. In the 18th and 19th minutes, the teams traded yellow cards, with Villanova’s coming in the middle of the field and UConn’s coming in a much more dangerous situation. UConn goalkeeper Kaitlyn Mahoney was facing a one-on-one with a Villanova striker approaching. Mahoney let the ball get past her but committed a foul to force a free kick that was later missed.
In the next 25 minutes, the Huskies and the Wildcats exchanged opportunities, with most of UConn’s chances going high and most of Villanova’s resulting in excellent saves by Mahoney. The highlight of UConn’s opportunities came in the 26th minute, when freshman Laci Lewis had space just inside the box, but sent the ball over the goal. For Villanova, their best chance was in the 44th minute, when Kaitlyn Mahoney kept things scoreless off a dangerous shot by the Wildcats’ Lauren Ashman.
In the beginning of the second half of play, UConn had a great look deep into the box, but the shot was cleared by Wildcat keeper Ela Kopec. Just six minutes later, Francesca Yanchuk had a great breakaway look for Villanova, but a charging Mahoney was able to deflect and then capture the ball.
In the 58th minute, there was a scary play for the Huskies. Jessica Mazo appeared to turn her ankle and was down for a minute but was fortunately able to shake it off and stay in the game. Two minutes later, Jaydah Bedoya had a nice chance, but put the ball into the safe hands of Kopec to keep things tied.
In the 67th minute, UConn had their best opportunity to that point. Jada Konte intercepted the Wildcats’ pass, drove in, but shot it just wide to give Villanova a goal kick. Just a minute later, Emma Zaccagnini got the ball into some empty space just outside the box and kicked it just past Kopec’s outstretched arms, but wide. For the next few minutes, the Huskies put the full press on the Wildcats, putting several shots on goal, forcing great keeper play from Kopec.
After a very eventful defensive stretch for Villanova, the Wildcats created a breakaway in the 74th minute and put a dangerous pass in the box that was cleared gracefully by Mahoney. Just two minutes later, Mahoney’s outstretched arms stopped another dangerous Villanova shot, which was followed by a save on the other end by Kopec.
With 10 minutes left in the contest, it appeared that Konte had a one-on-one with Kopec but instead was called offside just before she could get a shot off. As the minutes began to dwindle , the opportunities continued to increase for both teams, with the UConn defense and Mahoney making some critical plays down the stretch to keep things tied at zero. In the final minute of play, the Huskies had a few chances near the Wildcats’ goal, but were unable to convert, taking the game into overtime.
Nine minutes into free soccer, Mazo made a nifty move to get an open shot, but the ball was batted out of bounds by Kopec. The Huskies had a dangerous corner kick with ten seconds left, but the Wildcats managed to clear the ball to take the teams into double overtime.
Five minutes into the second free period, UConn defender Evelyn Arsenault received a yellow card for a foul committed just outside the box, spelling trouble for the Huskies. The kick did not make it past the wall though, and the subsequent kick was blocked by Jaydah Bedoya, who took it down the field on the fastbreak. She shot the ball just inside the box, which deflected off Kopec, but was recovered by Konte, who drilled in the golden goal game winner.
Huskies Alive—UConn stayed in playoff contention in a game that was a must-win for their postseason hopes. They currently sit tied with Marquette in fourth place, which would take them into the four-team fight, where they tentatively would line up to face first-place Xavier. Earlier in the season, things looked bleak, but the Huskies have really turned things around down the stretch, winning three of their last four.
Mahoney’s Masterpiece—Mahoney delivered another gem on Sunday, collecting eight saves and many more stops to notch her second shutout of the season, with an impressive 115 minutes played. It appears Mahoney is the answer for the Huskies, who earlier in the season often swapped between goaltenders, as they look to continue their postseason push.