The University of Connecticut women’s soccer team traveled to Indianapolis, Indiana to take on the Butler Bulldogs at the Bud and Jackie Sellick Bowl on Sunday, Oct. 31 in the first round of the Big East Women’s Soccer Championship.
The No. 3 seed Bulldogs looked to replicate the form that saw them reach the final of last year’s Big East tournament; their first hurdle would come in the form of the No. 6 seed Huskies, who handed No. 21 Georgetown their first loss of the season on the final matchday to punch their ticket into the conference tournament.
UConn manager Margaret Rodriguez lined up with Kaitlyn Mahoney in-goal, and a three-player defense of Jackie Harnett, Evelyn Arsenault and Chloe Landers. Sofia Weber, Lucy Cappadona, Jessica Mazo, Sophie McCarthy and Emma Zaccagnini lined up in midfield, while Jaydah Bedoya and Jada Konte made up the strike partnership.
The hosts, behind managers Tari St. John and Rob Alman, entrusted Emma Martin in-goal, with a backline that consisted of Amanda Kowalski, Julia Leonard, Anatasia Savich, Claire Farrington and Caitlin O’Malley. Katie Soderstem, Morgan Kloosterman and Aliya Diagne lined up in the middle of the park, while Abigail Isger and Alli Leonard made up the forward partnership.
UConn started the match with an effective high press that put the pressure on Butler, who found it difficult to get out of their own half. This immediate pressure won the Huskies three corners in the opening 10 minutes of the game. Moreover, the high intensity start to the contest allowed Cappadona to test opposing goalkeeper Martin in the 13th and 20th minutes.
Finally, in the 22nd minute, Bedoya took a lobbed shot from just outside of Butler’s box, which vibrated against the left post to almost put the Huskies in front.
This near miss would finally prompt the Bulldogs to wake up, as they began to string together passes in UConn’s final third in the hopes of finding the breakthrough. Butler was finally able to break the lines in the 25th minute, as Diagne found space and took a shot that smashed against the crossbar.
Then, one minute later, Leonard found space at the far post and took a shot off towards Mahoney’s near post, who dived to her left to once again deny the Butler attack.
Butler would proceed to dominate for the rest of the half, as they got five more shots off before the period’s conclusion; one of those shots was headed toward the back of the net, had it not been for the right post, which saved the Huskies from going down just before the half.
UConn started the second half as they did the first, with an intensity that suffocated the Butler midfield and defense. The Huskies’ fiery nature nearly paid off five minutes into the period; Bedoay was played through on-
, and proceeded to square the ball back to Konte, who smashed it towards the bottom right corner. However, the outstretched arms of Martin prevented UConn from opening the score.
Another opportunity came Konte’s way in the 55th minute, as the Husky forward found space and took a shot off that was parried away by Martin, who once again kept the game scoreless.
The Bulldogs would slowly but surely begin to dominate possession after this, but found it difficult to create clear-cut opportunities against a physical UConn side who remained disciplined in midfield and defense. One of the Bulldogs’ best opportunities of the match came in the 73rd minute, when Isger dribbled into the Husky box and cut it back toward the middle to open forward Gretchen Skoglund, who blasted it over the bar to waste a golden opportunity.
While Butler did hold onto the ball for the remainder of the half, they simply could not break the lines. UConn sat back throughout the Bulldogs’ long spells of possession, and looked to hit them on the counter attack. Overall, neither team was able to get a good grip on the match, which ultimately turned the match into a gritty, uneventful affair.
The lack of goal scoring opportunities for either side meant the match had to go to overtime. As expected, the Bulldogs dominated possession in their attempt to find the golden goal. The best opportunity for either side came in the 95th minute, when Anastasia forced a save out of Mahoney to keep the match scoreless.
In the second overtime, it was all Butler, as they dominated UConn and practically resided in their final third for the entire 10 minutes. This, along with a fatigued Husky side, meant that it would only be a matter of time before the Bulldogs found their winning goal. Finally, their intense pressure paid dividends.
Isger was able to strip UConn midfielder Weber of the ball in her own box. The Butler forward took a touch before she fired a shot off into the bottom right corner to win it for the Bulldogs at the death and advance to the semifinals of the Big East Championship.
Butler now gets a couple days of rest before they return to action against Georgetown on Thursday, Nov. 4 in the semifinals of the Big East Championship. The Bulldogs will look to get revenge against the team that defeated them in the final of last year’s conference tournament.
On the other hand, the Huskies’ season ends on a sour note, as they once again fell to the team which defeated them in last year’s championship. The program will have to regroup, and look to build off of their back-to-back conference tournament appearances next season.