A week ago, at Penn State, the Lions leveled the score against Virginia, scoring in the 85th minute. 26 seconds later Virginia struck to capture the win. Last night the Deacons converted a penalty kick in the 86th minute to take the lead. Virginia equalized in the 89th minute for the tie.
These women don’t give up.
Two weeks ago, Wake Forest played then #1 UNC and were thrashed 4 – 0. Since then, UNC dropped a game to Arkansas and UVa ascended to #1, which meant for the second straight week the Deacons played the top-ranked team in the country. This time the result was much better for Wake Forest, and for two-glorious minutes late in the game, they actually held the lead against UVa.
Wake came out in a nominal 3 – 5 – 2 formation. I say nominal because the two wingbacks were forced to play mostly as defenders, which is per normal for teams facing the Cavaliers. Wake offered an interesting wrinkle to the How-to-Play-the- Cavaliers handbook: they attacked, particularly in the first half, central midfielder Taryn Torres. When Torres was deeper, they attacked the space in front of her. When she moved up, they attacked the space behind her. So while Virginia was the stronger team on the night – Hello, we’re #1 for a reason – Wake was able to maintain more possession than any team we’ve faced thus far. It was brilliant because who would have thought to attack Torres? She’s an absolute bulldog on the pitch with an astounding work rate (think Kyle Guy) and she never slows down. Most teams try to come up the right side where Alexa Spaanstra and Courtney Petersen man the flank because both are given more license to attack, and thus may leave Virginia vulnerable. Or so the thinking goes. Wake came straight up the pitch and it was remarkably effective.
For the most part, the game was a chess match; the kind of game only a soccer fan would love. Spry Stadium is one of the bigger pitches in the ACC and both teams have learned how to maximize the space. Winger Becca Jarrett is used to finding herself with 10+ yards of space when she receives the ball at Klockner, just because opposing defenses aren’t used to teams able to find players so wide so quickly. For Wake, this space and ability to change the point of attack quickly becomes second nature. Jarrett got the end line and she had plenty of time on the ball, but she wasn’t her usual disruptive self.
Spaanstra was relatively anonymous in the first half. She has become the engine for this team: she can turn the ball at will, possesses wonderful vision, and while she is quick, it is her change of pace that is truly remarkable. I coach girls youth soccer and when I teach them simple turns, I emphasize the two parts to a turn: change direction and change speed. Spaanstra’s game wholly embodies this change of pace and it affords her the space to be so disruptive. With her “absence” in the first half, Wake was able to possess the ball for longer stretches than UVa has seen before, and to be frank, the women got tired.
One challenge that Coach Swanson is dealing with this year is a relative lack of depth, especially in comparison to recent years. Lizzie Sieracki was lost for the year and for the third straight game, both Diana Ordonez and Claire Constant were on the sidelines. Ordonez was still in a boot but Constant has graduated to a brace – and they were moving pretty well – so maybe soon they’ll be ready to contribute. But other than that, we have only two substitutes at this point. The past two games Ashlynn Serepca and Alissa Gorzak have swapped starting roles up front, as have Anna Sumpter and Sydney Zandi in the midfield. Freshman Cam Lexow has played in every game, but she’s not ready yet. Emma Dawson is going to be a fine replacement in two years for Taryn Torres in center midfield, but she is also only a spot player at this point.
The starters are logging a lot of minutes, and in two physical games – this game going into extra time – they are showing signs of wear. Center forward Meg McCool plays very energetic defense, covering more ground than the average central striker, yet on this day, she was a step slow on half a dozen lovely crosses delivered by Becca Jarrett and Courtney Petersen.
The other challenge posed by the permanent loss of Sieracki and the temporary loss of Constant is that Phoebe McClernon has been shifted out to right back. Now, even with Constant available, Coach Swanson has elected to move McClernon wide to accommodate freshman Talia Staude in the center when she’s in the game. Staude is going to be great: she’s physical, has the poise that the center defense position requires, and her distribution is good. But she’s not McClernon. Phoebe is a magisterial player with superb vision and touch on the ball, and she is our best player playing the most important position on the pitch. Except when she’s out wide. Plus, on the right, McClernon is a weaker player. She does attack. Relentlessly. But in the final third her distribution is, umm, average at best. And her shooting? Let’s just say there’s a reason why McClernon plays defense.
A wide pitch that Wake knows how to utilize, coupled with the fatigue of our players, along with a relatively poor half by Spaanstra, made this game more of a dogfight than UVa might have expected. At the half Virginia held the per-usual lead in shots (5 -1) and they would go on to amass an 18 – 4 differential for the game. We were the better team, but Wake defenders Hanna Bettfort and Madison Hammond were up to the task.
In the 87th minute, Wake’s Hulda Arnarsottir finally made the kind of through ball behind our defensive line that so many teams dream about – yet find so hard to do, you know, actually out there on the pitch – and Torres, who had to have been exhausted, was the one to chase down, and foul, Wake’s Sofia Rossi. Madison Hammond took the penalty kick, and by my way of thinking, she telegraphed that she was going to her right. Keeper Laurel Ivory must have made the same read, because she got a good jump, but Hammond went left with a crisp strike.
It looked like the game was over. I know that as a fan I despaired. I spent most of the next two minutes busying myself in the kitchen, basically avoiding the game. Fortunately these women are far more resilient than me. For the next two and half minutes, Virginia held total possession and managed four crosses to the top of the Wake box. The fourth, from Courtney Petersen, found Anna Sumpter at the penalty spot and she toe-poked it under the charging keeper and the game was 1 – 1. Last week it was Sydney Zandi scoring 26 seconds after a Penn State goal for the win. This night it was Anna Sumpter scoring with just a minute left to salvage the win. Sumpter and Zandi are fighting for the same starting spot alongside Torres and Spaanstra in the midfield. It’s going to be a tight race.
Next Up: The Cavaliers travel to Blacksburg to take on the #18 (and perfect on the season) Hokies. We’ll have had almost a full week off between games (the only time this will happen all season) so I have to hope Constant and Ordonez will be available. This game will NOT be covered by ACCN or ACCNX. I have lots of UVa friends who claim that Tech is NOT our rival – they’re too cloaked with disdain – but for me, this is a big omission from ESPN. So in place of a game report, next week I’ll recap where this season has taken us thus far.