Women's Soccer: WVU Clinches BE Tourney Spot
By Tim Goodenow for MSNsportsNET.com
STORRS, Conn. – The West Virginia women’s soccer team played to a thrilling 0-0 double-overtime draw with Connecticut Friday evening at Joseph J. Morrone Stadium. The tie gave WVU its one point needed to secure a spot in the 2009 BIG EAST Championship.
“We knew how tough of an environment it would be playing at Connecticut,” said coach Nikki Izzo-Brown, whose team earned a spot in a 10th-straight BIG EAST tournament. “We’re happy to secure the spot despite having several chances to win tonight."
West Virginia had game-winning chances from freshman midfielder Caroline Szwed and all-BIG EAST forward Megan Mischler in the first overtime session. Only 30 seconds into the first extra session, Szwed shot the ball just inside the penalty kick area that sailed high of the goal.
Two minutes later, Mischler one-timed a rebound off UConn goalkeeper Jessica Dulski’s hands and blasted a shot over the crossbar.
Mountaineer goalkeeper Kerri Butler was brilliant in goal, playing her best match of the season in making a career high nine saves in the team’s 10th shutout of the season. The junior came up with huge saves in every period, most notably at the end of regulation and in the waning seconds of the match.
With time set to expire in the second half, Huskie forward Brianna Gray chased down a ball in the right corner with five seconds to play. Gray sent a cross-turned-shot at Butler, forcing her into a backpedal, where she punched the ball across the box as time expired.
“I was happy with my performance after some so-so games prior to this,” said Butler. “It was important to get a shutout and give our team every chance possible to win tonight.”
Butler added to an exciting finish with another highlight-reel save on one final push from Connecticut.
After the Mountaineers were whistled for offsides, UConn quickly sent the ball up the right side to a streaking Huskie forward. Butler charged hard off her line to deflect the 50/50 ball, sending the ball towards the end line. UConn’s forward served the ball back into the middle where forward Elise Fugowski one-timed the ball from 8-yards out at the goal. Out of nowhere, Butler dove to her right and saved the potential game-winner that sealed the scoreless tie.
“It was really important for us to get some points from this game,” added Butler. “We could have won this game which makes it tough, but it was critical to get at least one point and we did do that.”
After a slow first half, WVU turned the heat up offensively in the second half, taking 10 shots in first 20 minutes following intermission.
“We talked about some things at the half that we could do much better,” said Izzo-Brown. “I think our midfield was able to work some balls through where we could attack and possess the ball better.”
WVU nearly opened the scoring early in the second half after generating several great looks as the result of corner kicks. In the 55th minute, defender Erica Henderson blasted a shot from 12-yards out with the rebound coming back to defender Meghan Lewis whose attempt was blocked.
Three minutes later, All-American midfielder Carolyn Blank received a flick and sent a header wide of the right post on the seventh Mountaineer shot of the second half.
“We were connecting passes but most importantly, just getting after it,” said Blank of the halftime adjustment. “Our forwards did a good job of holding the ball for us and the midfield used each other nicely in stringing together some passes.”
The Mountaineers finished with a 22-21 edge in shots while Connecticut held a 6-5 advantage in corner kicks.
WVU was paced offensively by Blank and Mischler with four shots apiece. Sophomore Blake Miller and freshmen Bri Rodriguez and Szwed each attempted three shots.
The Mountaineers kept the pressure on the Huskie defense for nearly all of the second half, including a series of shots beginning in the 65th minute.
Szwed had a shot deflected off a UConn defender, followed by an attempt sent high by midfielder Morgan Betscher.
In the 67th minute, Miller beat one defender and lined a hard shot towards the near post with Dulski making the stop.
The Mountaineer defense, anchored by the strong play of senior defender Nicole Mailloux, did not allow a Connecticut shot in the second half until the 73rd minute. Defender Lauren Ebert took a shot from the top of the box following a clear by the WVU defense off a UConn free kick.
Huskie forward Melissa Bosque led UConn with six shots on the night, including two quality looks early in the contest. Only six minutes into the match, Bosque slipped behind the Mountaineer back line on a ball over the top, leaving her one-on-one with Butler. Butler held tough, took two steps forward and denied Bosque’s low shot from 10-yards out, deflecting the ball over the end line for a corner kick.
In the 20th minute, the Huskies sent a deep ball up the middle off transition to Bosque. Bosque took one dribble and sent a hard shot to the far post with Butler making the diving save.
The Mountaineers’ best chance in the first half came in the 41st minute off the head of Blank following a free kick from just outside UConn’s bench after Szwed was fouled on the ball. Betscher served a ball into the box where Blank soared high in the air and sent a header just wide of the right post.
Blank continues to leave her mark on the WVU record book, earning a spot at the top of one career category. The reigning BIG EAST Midfielder of the Year moved into a tie for first in career matches started with 87, sharing the position with former All-Americans Chrissie Abbott and Lisa Stoia.
West Virginia moves to 7-5-6 (4-3-3 BIG EAST) and Connecticut goes to 10-6-1 (5-4-1 BIG EAST) on the season. The tie marks the third straight in the all-time series between the two programs.
The Mountaineers return to action on Sunday at 1 p.m. against Providence. The regular-season finale will be broadcast by Cox Sports Television on a tape-delay basis with Mike Rubin (play-by-play) and Chris Fama (color) calling the action.