The women’s soccer team continued to improve their playoff prospects on Saturday, Oct. 26 with a 1-1 tie against NESCAC rival Middlebury. The Cardinals were fueled by a goal from Sarah Sylla ’17 and yet another impressive performance from goalkeeper Jessica Tollman ’15.
Going into the matchup, the Panthers were ranked 14th in the nation in Division III women’s soccer with a 10-1-3 record overall, and a conference-leading 8-1-1 record in NESCAC play. After picking up its first conference win last Tuesday against Trinity College, Wesleyan was looking to continue its strong play, gaining a point in the standings for the third consecutive game.
After starting the game out with relatively level play between the two sides, Middlebury was awarded a penalty kick with just over 15 minutes left in the first half. The kick was put just to the right of Tollman, who was able to save the contest with a quick leap that prevented the goal. The save was one of Tollman’s seven in the match.
The Cardinals rode the momentum from the stopped penalty shot for the rest of the first half, putting home the first goal of the day with just under 11 minutes left in the period. Hannah Stone ’15 sent a strong cross to Sylla in the box, where the freshman forward was able to strike the ball to the lower right of the net for her second goal of the year. The assist was also Stone’s second of the year.
The Cardinals only allowed four shots in the first half, as their defense was able to shut down one of the NESCAC’s best offenses.
“I think part of the reason we were able to be so successful defensively was because we didn’t give [Middlebury] any space in the first half,” said Head Coach Eva Meredith. “We’ve been good at keeping a compact defense all year.”
The Cards outshot the Panthers 5-4 in the first half, while also leading them in corner kicks 2-0. However, the second half brought a change of pace to the game, as Middlebury tied it up in just the sixth minute after halftime. Panther forward Jamie Soroka received a pass at the top of the 18 with her back to a Wesleyan defender before turning around and firing a shot into the upper right corner of the goal over a diving Tollman.
The 1-1 tie held for the rest of the match, as both defenses were able to limit scoring chances for the remainder of the game. Still, Wesleyan had a few opportunities in the second half, including a corner kick with twenty-five minutes left in regulation.
The Cardinals’ best chance to regain the lead came with about two minutes left in regulation. Sylla received a low, hard cross from Carly Swenson ’17 just a couple of yards from the goal. She was able to get a foot on it, but put too much weight on her shot, sending it over the crossbar.
The tie gave Wesleyan sole possession of seventh place in the NESCAC, putting them in position for a playoff game next Saturday, Nov. 2. While the Cardinals have yet to clinch a spot, they now control their own postseason destiny. Their next game is Wednesday, Oct. 30 at Conn College, where a win would give them a playoff spot.
“It’s always nice to be in control of where you’ll end up,” Coach Meredith said. “We’re not looking for the stars, sun, and the moon to align for us—all we need to do is go out and win on Wednesday.”
Conn College only trails the Cardinals by three places in the NESCAC standings. A win for the Camels on Wednesday would push them into the playoffs and potentially knock Wes out of a postseason spot. While a tie would keep Conn College out of the playoffs, Wesleyan would rely on ties or losses from each of the four other teams below it.
After playing top-seeded Middlebury so well, Meredith noted the importance of keeping a high level of intensity against Conn College on Wednesday.
“We need to keep putting pressure on our opponents no matter who they are,” she said. “After getting our legs back in practice, we’ll be ready to finish strong.”