Just two weeks ago today, as the University of Connecticut Huskies suited up for their contest against Big East fourth-place Marquette, the outlook on their season did not look optimal. Going into that game, they had lost three of their last four games by a combined score of 2-9 and sat in the bottom three slot in the conference. Some switches flipped though, and all of a sudden, the Huskies got hot. They won that game against Marquette, as a part of a stretch where they’ve won three of four.
Looking forward, the Huskies are set to play in what will be a critical contest on Thursday against New England rival Providence College (8-5-2, 3-3-1), who sits at sixth place in conference, just two points behind UConn. If the new six-team playoff started today, the Huskies would host Marquette in the 4-5 game. If the Huskies win on Thursday, they will be put in a great position to make the playoffs, creating separation from the pack on the edge of the six slots. If they do not win, things will become tough, as they will face the top two teams in the conference for their final two games.
Providence is a very strong team, led by sophomore forward Meg Hughes, who leads the Friars with 19 points on the season, which is eight more than the next best player. The forward started the season stronger with points in each of her first five games for a total of twelve, but has cooled down of late, being held to no offensive production in the past two games and only five points across her last seven contests. She is a heavier goal scorer than distributor, making it important for the Huskies to dial in on Hughes and ensure that she doesn’t recreate the same explosion she had in the beginning of the year.
Sophomore Emma Bodner performs the goalkeeping duties for the Friars and has been effective, with a 1.03 goals against average and a save percentage of .792. Bodner has two shutouts in the past six games and has done a nice job limiting the damage, going eight straight games allowing one goal or less. In general, when the Huskies win they win big, so whether or not Bodner can keep things clean on her end will be a huge factor throughout the contest.
For the Huskies, the key will be to get sophomore Jaydah Bedoya going early and often. The reigning Big East offensive player of the week has gotten hot at the right time, scoring seven points across the past four games. She also started the run and assisted on the only goal of their double-overtime win against Villanova, demonstrating her ability to perform in the clutch.
After they take on the Friars, the Huskies will have a much tougher opponent to worry about in Xavier on Sunday, Oct. 24 at 1 p.m. The Musketeers (14-1-1, 7-1-0 Big East) march into the Joseph J. Morrone Stadium as conference leaders with 21 points, and will look to spoil UConn’s senior night.
Xavier have won six out of their last six matches, and have dominated the competition. They have only failed to come out victorious on two occasions this season; a draw to Bowling Green on Sept. 16, and a loss to Georgetown on Sept. 26 are the only two “hiccups” on a rather spotless record for manager Nate Lie’s team.
UConn will have to maintain solidity in the back in order to have a chance against an Xavier team which is relentless in attack. The Musketeers average 1.75 goals per game, and take a total of 16.3 shots per game. Moreover, out of the 261 shots the Musketeers have taken this season, an impressive 120 of them have been on target. As a result, Chloe Landers, Evelyn Arsenault and Jackie Harnett will have to stay tight to the Xavier attackers, who will look to take advantage of even the slightest of gaps.
Freshman forward Chloe Netzel is one of the players that the Huskies will have to keep their eyes on. In 16 starts, Netzel has found the back of the net five times and garnered two assists. Right behind her is fellow forward Shelby Sallee, who has four goals and three assists to her name in 16 games played.
Other players to watch out for include forward Emma Marcus, who has four goals and two assists in 16 starts. Furthermore, despite only starting three out of the 15 games she has participated in, midfielder Carrie Lewis has six assists on the season, and has truly made her presence felt off the bench.
For UConn, the key to victory will revolve around taking advantage of the few chances they’ll have against a disciplined Musketeer side. Xavier have conceded only eight times this season, and opponents usually get off a total of 8.5 shots per game, which is not much in the grand scheme of things. Finally, only 54 of the 136 total shots that have come against Xavier have been on target.
Over the past two games, the Huskies’ struggle to find the back of the net has unnecessarily taken them into overtime. Granted, they won both of those games, but UConn cannot consistently rely on this strategy, especially against a team such as Xavier.
Ultimately, the key to victory will be the same: get the ball to Bedoya. The forward leads the team with five goals and two assists this season, and was one of the main reasons the team were able to get the victory in their two previous matchups (against Creighton and Villanova, respectively).
When speaking to UCTV Sports reporter Richard Prosser after the squad’s win against Creighton, head coach Margaret Rodriguez praised Bedoya’s efforts, and stated that this was “just the beginning of what she’s going to do for us here.”
We’ll see if the sophomore forward can come up big for the Huskies once again, and lift them to victory against a nearly unstoppable Xavier side.