Women's Soccer | Jumbos open season with loss against Panthers
Published: Monday, September 10, 2012
Updated: Monday, September 10, 2012 07:09
On a day in which the wind may have had more of an effect on the proceedings than the players, No. 10 Middlebury took its chances early and clung to its lead at home, defeating Tufts 2-0 on Saturday in both teams’ season opener.
It was the Jumbos’ first loss to Middlebury – and their first loss in their opening game – since a 2-1 overtime defeat opened the 2009 season. The loss also snapped Tufts’ streak of allowing one goal or fewer in seven straight games, which dated back to last season.
Play opened in a very messy manner, with both teams trying to get their bearings in extremely strong winds that ripped across the field. But Middlebury wasted no time making its efforts count. In the 15th minute, sophomore defender Moria Sloan found herself in space after being played through by classmate midfielder Claire Nishioka. From the left side of the box, Sloan bravely chose placement over power, floating her shot over senior tri-captain goalkeeper Phoebe Hanley and into the top corner to grab an early Panthers’ lead.
“She was coming down towards the 18[-yard box], and we just really didn’t put enough pressure on her,” Tufts centerback Catharine Greer said. “She shot the ball, and with the wind conditions, it just sailed into the upper right hand corner.”
Middlebury found itself in complete control just 20 minutes later, when a combination play from sophomore midfielder Carter Talgo and senior forward Hannah Newman in the box left Talgo with space to slide one past Hanley, doubling the Panthers’ lead.
“It was a miscommunication, and we weren’t tight enough on our marks,” Greer said. “One girl got through and was able to get off a clear open shot.”
Tufts threatened just once in the first half, when, five minutes into the game, sophomore forward Alina Okamoto had the ball fall to her feet in a crowded box. But two close-range attempts in quick succession couldn’t find the back of the net, and the game remained scoreless.
“It definitely changes the tone of the game, because there is so little scoring that when there is a goal, we now have to get a goal back,” senior tri-captain midfielder Alyssa Von Puttkammer said. “But I think overall we put pressure on them, and I don’t know how much it would have changed our mentality. Our goal is still to put a lot of goals in the back of the net, and I don’t know how much one would have changed that.”
In the second half, with play becoming more and more scattered, the Panthers appeared content to sit back with their two goal lead and make the Jumbos break them down. Yet Middlebury still ended up with the first scoring opportunity, as Nishioka chased down a longball near the corner flag before playing in a dangerous ball into a confused and crowded box. Junior Scarlett Kirk, the Panthers’ leading scorer in 2011, got a foot on it, but the ball trickled just wide.
Once again, a lack of communication had created a dangerous situation for the Jumbos.
“Yesterday’s game was a good start for the defense, but we still have more things to work on,” Greer said. “It’s clear that we all have a great work ethic, so once we figure the communication stuff out and stay close together, I’m sure we’ll have a very strong backline.”
On the other side of the pitch, Tufts continued to struggle to create chances. Junior forward Blair Brady, playing higher up the field than her typical right back position last season, used her speed to find space for a couple of shots on target.
“Blair’s a great player,” said Von Puttkammer, who had a second-half shot of her own. “She brings a lot of energy into whatever position she plays. She’s super fit, and she just runs for days, so having her up top was a good change, and anytime you can change things up to mix up the other team it’s always a good thing.”
Despite the attempts on net, the Jumbos were never able to truly challenge junior goalkeeper Elizabeth Foody, who finished with four saves and a shutout victory.
Throughout the game, the wind played a large factor in dulling the attacks of both teams.
“I think the wind hurt us a lot, but it also hurt the other team,” Greer said. “A lot of our throw-ins and corner kicks would just sail right off the field, which was frustrating. But this year, we aren’t making any excuses, and there were other things we could have done better.”
Despite the disappointing result, one of the high points for the Jumbos was the play of their new additions. Tufts added four freshmen and three sophomores that didn’t play this past season, and many of them made impressive debuts.
“It was really impressive how we had some of the freshmen come in and they did a very good job,” Greer said. “I think it has a lot to do with the older girls; they have such a great leadership role and I think that’s so important for a team collectively. It’s apparent that the younger kids are confident in themselves because of the older players.”
After taking a tough loss against one of the nation’s top teams, the Jumbos won’t have much time to rest and regroup before their home opener on Wednesday, a non-conference match against MIT. They’ll also hit the road in conference play for the second time in eight days Saturday when they take on Wesleyan, who fell 1-0 to Bowdoin in its opener. Both will be important opportunities for Tufts to get its first win of the season.