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Imagine that it is the first round of March Madness and the Hoos are set to play their first round game. Only Ty Jerome isn't playing. In fact, he hasn't dressed out and he spends the game between the team bench and a box seat.  The game result almost doesn't matter: how many questions would Coach Bennett have to answer about Jerome's absence? 

 

Monmouth0
Virginia2

 

 

 

This is what happened last night as the women's soccer team took on Monmouth in the first round of the NCAA tournament: starting keeper Laurel Ivory was replaced in goal by freshman Michaela Moran. But since this is women's soccer, and no one cares, no one is going to get to ask Coach Steve Swanson why Ivory was missing. Maybe this is better, for if Ivory were having emotional or academic issues, maybe it's best that she be able to regroup in privacy.  She is still a young woman, just an 18 year old sophomore. She was on the team bench briefly at the beginning of both halves, so I presume she's not been suspended from the team, but spent the game sitting next to the press box with team volunteer coach, Eilidh Thompson, and team operations assistant, Molly Menchel. She didn't look injured, and besides, Courtney Petersen, who's been out for five or six games now, has spent every game with the team on the sidelines. So, in the absence of comment from the team, all the fan is left with is rampant speculation.

After the debacle versus Florida State, I jokingly speculated that the team had had the mother of all cat fights in the locker room right before the game. Ivory's banishment to the reserved seats, coupled with a second straight flat performance from the team only gives credence to my off-the-cuff jest.

We won this game handily, outshooting Monmouth 23 - 1. The game was never in doubt, only when the goals would be scored. And by whom. But something is off with this team. Meghan McCool created the first goal with a nifty turn in the box and a bit of a slow roller pass to the onrushing Alexa Spaanstra who easily buried the goal in the 27th minute. But after the goal, McCook walked away from Spaanstra and the usual group hug never materialized. After giving up three unanswered goals to Florida State, I would have thought that there would be more energy (relief?) on the occasion of our first goal.  Spaanstra scored the second goal, a cracker (with her left foot) from 30 yards out, and again, very little in the way of celebration.  I didn't see the goal, I was looking at Ivory, and her response was barely noticeable. To be fair, she's not the most demonstrative on the pitch anyway, so this could be her natural reserve, but again, this was a great goal and everyone's reaction seems half-hearted.

 
The team was a step slow throughout the game. I'm guessing that on at least a dozen occasions, we had a fast break opportunity with McCool, Spaanstra, and Hana Kerner waiting to be released to run onto a through ball, only for the pass to be too late. The forwards either were offsides or Kerner, especially, had to stop their runs, and so when the ball came, they were starting on their back foot. Even my wife could see that they passes were coming too late. Zoe Morse, who is usually money in the bank on her passes, must have missed Kerner a half dozen times alone.
 
In my mailbag I highlighted the play of Taryn Torres, how quickly she attacked the ball the instant she lost possession. That dedication, that energy, was missing across the lineup and we were a step slow defending all evening long.  Offense is usually about the self, the ego of individual players. Defense is a collective experience, and if we're not selling out for our teammates like we were even two weeks ago, it may be a very short run for the women in this tournament.
 
Injury News:  Courtney Petersen appears to be making progress: she's ditched the crutches and was walking without a boot and she was even juggling the ball before gametime. I still don't know if she'll be back, but she's at least walking fluidly.  So that's good news. The bad news is that Lizzy Sieracki and Brianna Westrup did not play a minute of the second half. Given this team's depth and Swanson's penchant for using 19 - 20 players per game, this is disconcerting. Sieracki took a hard knock in the first, though she didn't have to come out, and maybe this was just a precautionary move.
 
Next Up:  Texas Tech. Apparently our game location and kickoff is dependent on the outcome of the Baylor v Abiline Christian game late Saturday night.