Either the Big 12 doesn't have a TV network a’ la the ACC or the PAC 12, or the Big 12 cares even less about women (or soccer), but the UVa vs Baylor Sweet 16 tournament game was “broadcast” over Facebook Live and it was a guy with a single camcorder on a tripod.
I open this game report by mocking the TV coverage because there was no feed for the first 17 minutes of the game. Finding out that the game had started, and then receiving goal announcements via twitter was eerily reminiscent of the experience of trying to follow world soccer two decades ago, before FoxSports came to town, of trying to watch scratchy internet streams and getting scores via text messages. These are not happy memories. I will be a happy man if I never have to watch another Division I sporting event, and NCAA tournament game no less, via Facebook.
Baylor apparently came out of the gates on fire because they had 4 shots and drew a pair of corners in the opening 10 minutes. Keeper Laurel Ivory had her best game of the season compressed into a dozen minutes because the Baylor announcer could not stop gushing about her play. It is true, keepers get better the more they’re used, and Ivory responded well on this evening.
Then came the corner.
I’ve written at some length about how this team sucks at corners and the women made a soothsayer out of me as we surrendered yet another soul-shattering goal off a corner. This one was in the sixth minute. Somehow senior defender Brianna Westrup has made her way into Coach Swanson’s doghouse: she didn’t play the second half of the Monmouth game, nor did she log any minutes versus Texas Tech. She’s our best defender in the air, though Lizzy Sieracki, who has replaced her, is also good in the air. I don’t know if Westrup’s inclusion would have made any difference on the corner, but her absence couldn’t have helped.
Before the Baylor feed kicked in, center forward Meghan McCool equalized on what the game announcer recounted was a fine solo effort from the top of the penalty box.
The feed started about the 20th minute and it looked like we were a team energized by McCool’s goal. I've been critical of our team coming out flat the past two or three games; well, they weren't flat today. We slowly took control of the game and beginning with the last 10 minutes of the first half and all of the second half we out and out dominated Baylor. We were poised and controlled and we ran Baylor. Phoebe McClernon and Zoe Morse initiated our attacks and controlled the center of the pitch. Sydney Zandi was making her diagonal runs at speed, Taryn Torres and Montana Sutton were cutting off through balls and we didn’t miss a beat when the second team midfield trio of Ayan Adu, Betsy Brandon and Anna Sumpter came on the field.
We had them on the back heel for the rest of the game, but early the second half, we got hit with a picture-perfect counterattack -- one of the prettiest goals you'll see -- and that was the scoring. In soccer parlance, the goal was against the run of play. We had several chances, but it was a case of coulda, shoulda, woulda. And the season is over.
Trigger Warning: This is Baylor’s counter for the game winner. It grieves me to post this here, but this was a beaut. Posterity demands that it be archived.
Over the course of the season, I’ve wished that I could talk with Coach Swanson for there have been many questions I would love to see get answered, mostly as a way of publicizing and promoting the sport. As I’m left ruminating on the demise of the season, I have just one question.
Over the course of the season, the team unveiled several designed plays off of free kicks, and they were well executed. But against a Texas Tech team that would take us to overtime, and then tonight against Baylor when we were losing, we didn't have a single creative play on free kicks. We just lumped the ball high in the air (very high, not a driven ball in sight) for the opposing keepers to make relatively safe snags. In the last 3 minutes we won a free kick two yards outside the penalty box. This was a gift, one of the finer scoring opportunities a team can be afforded. The men, and Stanford’s Catarina Macario, can shoot the ball here, getting the ball up and over the wall and dipping down toward the goal. Few in the women’s game can shoot from here; the situation was crying out for something special. In football, teams practice all year for that one goal line play that will score a late game touchdown. Here, with the game on the line, nothing. Crickets. Westrup (who’d finally entered the contest with 10 minutes left, because we needed her as an aerial target) stood up to take the shot. I'm not sure she's taken a free kick all year since she's normally a target, but she just sidefooted the ball straight into the wall.
It was a dispiriting end to a fine season.
All of us at Hoos Place want to wish our departing seniors the best for their continued growth and development as they leave Mr Jefferson’s University. Ayan Adu, Betsy Brandon, Hana Kerner, Montana Sutton, Brianna Westrup, and I presume, Lorato Sargeant, Mia Hoen-Beck and Jasmine Wright: you were an absolute pleasure to watch this year and you will be missed. Thank you.
I will do a season – ending recap after Thanksgiving, hopefully after the sting of this loss has passed. I had my hopes up for the prospect of travelling to Georgetown to see us in the Elite 8. For the record, though, UVa has made the Sweet 16 fourteen consecutive years and this streak is the longest active streak in the country. The women have made the NCAA tournament 25 consecutive years, the second longest active streak in the country. And finally, we have been to the Big Dance 31 times; only soccer behemoth UNC has been to more. The future is still bright and I would expect all three trends to continue next year.