Head Coach Pete Felske could not have asked for a better start to the playoffs.
The Wheaton women’s soccer team defended their home turf in rounds one and two of the NCAA Tournament with a pair of convincing wins, defeating Webster University (Mo.) 4-0 on Friday, Nov. 9, then cruising past University of Wisconsin-Whitewater 7-0 on Saturday, Nov. 10. The two wins put the Thunder into the Sweet Sixteen for the ninth consecutive season as the team continues its 16th consecutive tournament appearance.
“I thought we came out this weekend with a purpose,” Felske said of his team’s pair of victories. “It’s our goal every year to get to the NCAA tournament, and we did that. Now that we are here, we want to make the most of it.”
That became apparent right away as Wheaton took on Webster on Friday morning in their opening-round match. Sophomore forward Sarah Guidera became involved early on, and in the 10th minute she scored from five yards out with the help of sophomore forward Anna Seabolt and junior forward Leah DeMoss, who both assisted on the play. Wheaton took the momentum from the early goal and used it to control the pace of the entire game, scoring again in the 30th minute via a goal from freshman forward Ally Witt.
The Thunder led at the half 2-0. According to DeMoss, grabbing an early lead helps the team play at their best level.
“I think that one of the biggest factors to our success in these first two games was finding the back of the net first,” she said. “In my opinion, when we score first, our entire mentality … changes and we play great soccer.”
DeMoss and Witt each added a goal in the second half to account for the 4-0 final.
On Saturday, Nov. 10, the Thunder welcomed a UW-Whitewater team that defeated Wittenberg University (Ohio) 4-0 in their first round matchup the day before.
The Thunder wasted no time in securing a similar result as the day before, scoring six goals in the first half. DeMoss, Witt and Seabolt each scored twice, while senior Laura Karsten added another in the 7-0 rout. Senior Hilary Barreto notched her fifth shutout of the season in goal for the Thunder, making five saves in the process.
The vast amount of offense through the first two games of the tournament was reminiscent of what Felske said about his team in the preseason and their potential to average scoring 4-5 goals per game.
“I know it sounds absurd. … That’s a lot in the game of soccer, I know,” he said. “But, as I look back now, that really wasn’t out of the realm of possibility. We certainly created enough goal scoring opportunities, we just haven’t been hungry enough or in the right position to do so.”
That all changed this weekend.
“We definitely have been very good at staying calm and collective as we capitalize on opportunities in the box,” DeMoss said.
Felske agreed. “I think we’re getting there now, but with all the new players we’ve had to incorporate into what we do, it’s taken a bit longer than I thought it would.”
As for the next step, Wheaton must travel to St. Louis to the campus of Washington University for the NCAA sectionals semifinals and finals.
Wheaton faces No. 2 Hardin-Simmons University (Texas) today, Nov. 16, for a chance at advancing to the Elite Eight round on Saturday, Nov. 17. Hardin-Simmons defeated Trinity University (Texas) in seven rounds of penalty kicks to earn a spot in the Sweet Sixteen. Washington University takes on Concordia College (Minn.) in the other matchup.
Felske is quite familiar with the Hardin-Simmons squad, a team that is coached by Marcus Woods, one of Felske’s good friends. The team won the National Title in 2010 and is currently ranked second in the country.
“Hardin-Simmons is a great squad,” he said of his next opponent. “It will be a high-paced, physical game where every player will leave 100 percent on the field and let the chips fall where they may. There’s a tremendous amount of respect between the two programs, so regardless of the result, I’m confident both teams will shake hands and wish each other the best.”
What is this team capable of should they get past Hardin-Simmons?
“I believe that we can win a national championship,” DeMoss said. “I think this team has faced a lot of adversity, which has only made us better in the long run. Our team continues to get better each game, and hopefully we bring the fire and momentum that we have into our next game.”
The Wheaton contest vs. Hardin-Simmons begins at 3 p.m. this afternoon, Nov. 16, and can be seen online at bearsports.wustl.edu.
Banner and Photo Credit: Allison Freet
Printed in the November 16, 2012, issue of The Wheaton Record. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.