It was a tough season for the No. 19 Huskies, who had to fight and claw their way through some of the best teams in the country just to get to a .500 record.
But there’s still more work to be done.
Championship weekend is finally upon us, taking place right here in Storrs. In terms of tournament seeding, No. 2 UConn is slated to take on No. 3 Old Dominion, with the winner playing either No. 1 Liberty or No. 4 Temple.
The Huskies have had an up-and-down year, facing a brutal non-conference schedule that saw only two games against teams that weren’t ranked at the time. While absolutely taking their lumps all fall, the perks of facing tough competition every weekend will hopefully pay off right now in the quest for the team’s 10th straight Big East tournament title.
Some of the team’s most memorable wins include Sunday’s bout with No. 21 Delaware and a shootout victory against No. 13 Harvard. In fact, all of Connecticut’s ranked wins have come either at home or a neutral site.
Junior Claire Jandewerth and freshman Sophia Ugo lead the team in goals with 10 and eight, respectively. While they are at the head of the pack, there is a plethora of scoring options, with a number of players stepping up in big spots this year. Take Erica Solomen for example, who netted the go-ahead goal in Sunday’s win, only her second of the year. While Jandewerth and Ugo are expected to head the offense, don’t be surprised if someone like Solomen, freshman Madi Herb or senior Lindsay Dickenson comes up big for UConn.
Some good news: the Huskies are the only team benefiting from home field advantage. Some bad news: UConn has a 1-2 record against teams in the tournament. Let’s look ahead to the games by looking back at the head-to-head matchups and overall summaries of each team, highlighting key players to look out for along the way.
No. 1 Liberty
Currently ranked No. 8 in the nation, the Flames are the only team in the Big East with a perfect conference record, earning them sole possession of the regular season title. They’re not too shabby overall either, winning all but two of their games, the two losses being to No. 5 Northwestern and No. 6 Louisville early on in the year. Since that one week in early September, Liberty has won 12 straight matches and has shown no signs of slowing down. Some key wins for them include defending champion North Carolina, Big East rival Old Dominion and No. 22 Kent State.
The Huskies fell to the Flames over a month ago, a dominating 1-3 road loss. Liberty really put on a clinic, outshooting UConn 23-10 with an incredible 15 shots on goal. Connecticut’s only goal came in garbage time, an Abby Gooderham strike off of a penalty corner. Goalie Cheyenne Sprecher had a miraculous 12 saves, and it looks like she’ll have to put up those same big numbers if the Huskies hope to walk away victorious from a matchup with the Flames.
Just by looking at Liberty’s roster, it’s evident that they are a top tier scoring threat at all times. They don’t have one, but two top ten goal scorers in the entire country (based on total goals) in Jill Bolton and Daniella Rhodes. There are even two more quality members of the supporting cast, with Lizzie Hamlett and Bethany Dykema putting up one less goal (17) than Sophia Ugo and Claire Jandewerth, UConn’s top two strikers, combined. Any defense brave enough to get thrown into that offensive hellfire will have a rough day ahead of them.
No. 3 Old Dominion
I’m gonna say it right now, this isn’t the same team that UConn easily handled in a 2-0 home win earlier this year. The Monarchs have really found their own this season, losing only four games, all to ranked teams. They have beaten their fair share of top 25 teams as well, taking down then No. 11 and No. 14 Virginia on two different occasions in addition to No. 24 James Madison. Despite ranking lower in conference, they actually place higher in the polls than the Huskies, coming into this weekend at No. 15 in the country.
In their only matchup this season, UConn was able to shut out ODU, a promising sign coming into this semifinal contest. In September, the Huskies had a stellar performance, dictating the pace of play and controlling the game nearly the entire time. Jandewerth found the back of the net in the second quarter off of a penalty corner, and McKenna Sergi scored one of her own to start out the second half. While that game seemed to look easy for UConn, don’t expect the same result just yet, as Old Dominion is surely hungry for revenge.
The Monarchs are led by two main shooters, Marlon de Bruijne and Delphine Le Jeune, who tally 11 and seven goals on the year, respectively. De Bruijne in particular is known to fire them off, taking a whopping 61 shots during the regular season. In this semifinal match, the Huskies should look to contain the both of them in order to keep Old Dominion at bay.
No. 4 Temple
As the most improbable team to play UConn, it’s worth noting that Temple shouldn’t even be here. The Owls finished their season with an 8-10 overall record and a 4-3 Big East record, good enough for fourth thanks to a big upset win over the Huskies this past week. If they hadn’t won that game, their last conference matchup of the season, Temple would have finished 3-4, tied with Georgetown, who had a tiebreaker over them. While not being the most talented team by any means, what do the Owls have to lose?
The upset loss for the Huskies last week was a back-and-forth affair, with each team trading goals until the last, a Julianne Kopec strike, was enough to put Temple over the edge in overtime. The Owls had home field advantage in that one, so it will be a little tougher to replicate the magic they had last Friday in this tournament, especially in a first round bout with Liberty.
Temple doesn’t really have a true scorer, with Kopec leading the team with six goals. Residing in a conference spearheaded by a big three of UConn, Liberty, and Old Dominion, the Owls feel like the odd team out, but maybe that will put a chip on their shoulders and spark a postseason run.