While the game remained scoreless through two overtimes, Saturday’s home matchup pitting the women’s soccer team against Bowdoin College was not lacking in excitement. The tie marks the first time that Wesleyan has not been iced by the Polar Bears since 2002.
“Although we didn’t come out with a win against Bowdoin, I think the game was a huge step in the right direction for us,” said goalkeeper and tri-captain Gavi Elkind ’09. “One of our team goals is to play hard and stay focused for the full 90 minutes, and maintaining the shutout through two overtime periods was a big accomplishment for us in that area.”
Fellow captain Sam Blank ’09 added, “A win would have been really great, but a tie is still a good result especially considering that they have dominated us in the past.”
The first half was the only time that Bowdoin looked like the better team, as they were able to keep control of the ball for large chunks of time in Wesleyan’s defensive zone. Two Bowdoin shots hit the post, one of which came off of the fingers of Elkind as she dove to make the first save of the game. The Polar Bears generated more chances on offense in the first half, and out-shot the Cardinals 7-4 at halftime.
Wesleyan was much stronger in the second half of play, clearing the ball quickly out of the defensive half and being more aggressive on the front lines. Emma Nitzberg ’12 was the first to get a clear scoring opportunity when Taylor Stevenson ’10 sent a perfect through ball to her in the tenth minute. Nitzberg, who was unmarked less than five yards from the goal, attempted to loft the ball over the head of the oncoming keeper, just missing the cage. Two minutes later, the crowd of over 100 was on their feet when defender Sarah Orkin ’09 booted the ball across the field to Beth Kenworthy ’10, who sped by the defense and took a hard shot that grazed the top of the net.
From that point on, opportunities abounded for the Wesleyan squad, but they were never able to capitalize on them. Darya Battelle ’11 had an exciting chance on net as the second half winded down, but it once again turned out fruitless for the Cards. On the other end of the field, Wesleyan defenders frustrated Polar Bear attackers and Elkind was a strong force in net, positioning well to squash any Bowdoin chances and settling down her teammates after small defensive breakdowns.
“We’ve been working on staying positive and encouraging one another on the field, and I heard a lot of constructive communication on Saturday,” Elkind said. “The intensity and focus of my teammates—particularly the defensive line—definitely gave me the confidence and mental toughness that I needed.”
Blank also noted the team’s efficiency as a major asset to their play.
“One of our strengths has definitely been our ability to get the ball out of the back quickly,” Blank said.
Despite Wesleyan’s apparent advantage in the half, Bowdoin led 16-10 in shots when the buzzer sounded to signify the end of the second half.
Blank repudiated the significance of the shot differential in the contest.
“We can move the ball up the field very well but when we get to the offensive half, we have a tendency to play really ’pretty,’” she said. “We make extra passes around the box and hesitate to take the open shot or we dribble in too deeply. I think we need to have more confidence in taking a shot and in knowing that if they recover the ball after the shot we are skilled enough to bring the ball back up the field for another chance.”
Two 10-minute overtimes ensued, with big chances being traded back and forth, but neither team was able to get past the goaltenders, and many shots missed the net wide. Most impressive was the punch-out save Elkind had to make with under 25 seconds remaining when a Bowdoin player redirected a corner kick from just a few yards out.
Even though Wesleyan didn’t come away with a win at the end of 110 minutes, the tie will certainly prove helpful as the season progresses and Wesleyan contends for a spot in the NESCAC tournament.
“The league is always so close that any result that is not a loss is really important,” Blank said. “In a way we sort of won a mental battle by playing Bowdoin so closely. In our first game versus Mount Holyoke we came out flat, but in this game we showed we have the ability to hang in tight games for however long it takes, even if that means 110 minutes. We know we can contend with any club now.”
This Wednesday, the team will engage in non-conference play against Smith College. Should they win, the Cardinals will extend their unbeaten streak to three games, a feat that they haven’t accomplished since 1993. Last year Smith beat Wesleyan 2-1 in a tight contest, and the game should provide another good midweek opportunity for the Cardinals to prepare and refine their play for the weekend’s NESCAC matchup against Middlebury.