The UConn women’s soccer team welcomed No. 17 Xavier to Joseph J. Morrone Stadium on Sunday, Oct. 24. The Huskies (8-7-1 overall, 4-4-1 Big East) looked to solidify their spot in the top six and get one step closer to clinching their spot in the Big East tournament, while the Musketeers (16-1-1 overall, 9-1-0 Big East) hoped to clinch the regular season title and kill off any chance of Georgetown overtaking them at the top.
Three of the six spots in the Big East tournament field remained open going into Sunday’s contest, and those final positions would be decided by UConn along with four other teams: DePaul, Marquette, Providence and St. John’s. The Huskies and Red Storm were tied at 13 points apiece entering both squads’ penultimate games of the season. As a result, UConn wanted to defeat Xavier by whatever means necessary to keep the pace with St. John’s.
UConn head coach Margaret Rodriguez lined up with Kaitlyn Mahoney in-goal, and a three-woman defense made up of Chloe Landers, Evelyn Arsenault and Jackie Harnett. The midfield consisted of Sofia Weber, Lucy Cappadona, Jessica Mazo and Emma Zaccagnini. Finally, Jada Konte, Jaydah Bedoya and Isabelle Lynch started up top.
The visiting Musketeers, led by head coach Nate Lie, lined up with Olivia Jenkins in-goal, and a defense made up of Hayley Jakovich and Grace Brauer. The four woman midfield consisted of Molly McLaughlin, Olivia Lawson, Elise Le, and Ella Rogers. Finally, Mathilde Rasmussen, Sonia Vargas, and Chloe Netzel made up the forward trio.
The Huskies knew the challenge that they had in front of them; anything other than perfection would see them lose to a fiery Xavier side.
UConn, however, started off the contest in the worst way possible. Six minutes into the match, Le played a cross into the box from the left side of the pitch. The cross found Vargas at the center of the box; the forward proceeded to smash it dead center at Mahoney. The Husky goalkeeper got a glove to it, but that would not be enough to keep it out of the net, and Xavier took the 1-0 lead.
After this goal, Rodriguez’s squad was able to build some momentum in the Musketeers’ final third. The midfielders and forwards began to combine with each other as UConn’s high press finally began to pay dividends. This momentum was the catalyst for the Huskies’ best opportunity of the first half; in the 15th minute, Konte took a lobbed shot from just beyond the halfway line which ricocheted off the crossbar to nearly get UConn level.
The Huskies’ small surge of momentum would not last, however, as Xavier retook control of the match soon after. The Musketeers continued to find gaps in UConn’s midfield, and were able to consistently break the lines. Lie’s team finished the half with seven shots in comparison to the Huskies’ two, with UConn fighting for dear life during the remaining 25 minutes of the half.
The second half was more of the same for the visitors, who would not take their foot off the gas. Xavier won four corners in the opening 10 minutes of the new half as they looked for their second goal of the match. In the 59th minute, the Musketeers had one of their best chances of the half. A free kick by Jakovich was connected on by Rogers; it would have headed into the back of the net had it not been for a goal line clearance by Cappadona, who kept the Huskies in the match.
Xavier’s second best chance of the half came in the 64th minute. A cross into the box was connected on by forward Shelby Sallee; Mahoney was able to get a glove to it to push the ball onto the crossbar and prevent a second Musketeer goal.
UConn continued to be unable to get into Xavier’s final third for the whole of the second half. The high press by the Huskies was no longer effective, and the Musketeers were able to fend off the UConn attack at every turn.
The Huskies’ best and only chance of the second half came in the 79th minute, when Mazo found Lynch in Xavier’s final third, who held the ball up for Bedoya. The sophomore forward would proceed to cut in and take an excellent shot on goal which was destined for the bottom left corner had it not been for the outstretched hand of Jenkins, who made an exceptional save to keep the Musketeers in the lead.
Xavier would stay firm for the final 10 minutes to defeat UConn and clinch the No. 1 seed in the Big East Championship. On the other hand, the Huskies’ failure to win means they remain with 13 conference points, and will have to rely on others to take down the remaining four teams vying for one of the top six spots in the conference.
Xavier completed the season having only lost one match this season, and will now look towards the Big East tournament. The Huskies have one match remaining on their schedule, and that is against a strong side in Georgetown on Thursday, Oct. 28 at 2 p.m. This is a crucial game for the Huskies, who will want to rely on themselves to clinch one of the top six spots in the conference.