The women’s soccer team defeated the University of Massachusetts Boston 3-1 in their season opener on Wednesday afternoon at Jackson Field, starting the season with a win against the Beacons for the second year in a row.
Captain Sarah Sylla ’17 scored twice late, adding on to Olivia Gorman ’19’s first half tally to give the Cardinals the edge. In her first collegiate appearance, goalkeeper Claire Coyle ’20 turned aside two shots on goal to keep the Birds in contention.
Wesleyan’s play was outstanding all around, outshooting the opponent 40-4, with 17 on target to UMass Boston’s 4. If not for the exceptional play of UMass’ starting goalkeeper Alyssa Fugiel, the Red and Black surely would have scored several more goals.
The Birds peppered Fugiel with 21 shots in the first half. Yet as the halftime whistle blew, the Birds found themselves tied 1-1, with goals from the Beacons’ Gigi Braga at 19:32 and Wesleyan’s Gorman at 35:47. The score remained tied until late in the second half, when in the 83rd minute, Sylla collected a pass from Katie Frizzell ’20 and slipped one past Fugiel for the game-winner.
Just under three minutes later, Sylla struck again when she received a pass from Mo Nelson ’19 and slotted one past the UMass keeper to extend the Cards’ lead to two.
Head Coach Eva Meredith praised her squad’s tenacity.
“I think as the game went on, coming back from a goal down shows some resilience and I think we came to life more and more,” she said.
The Birds are back on the pitch on Saturday with an away matchup at Mount Holyoke College. The Lyons, who fell to Amherst 2-0 on Tuesday and are 1-2 on the season, should be a worthy adversary for the Cards. Wesleyan will face Albertus Magnus College at home on Tuesday before beginning their NESCAC campaign with a home match against Bowdoin next Saturday.
Bowdoin, who fell to Williams in the NESCAC final last fall, will be a good test for the revitalized Wesleyan squad, which added 10 first-year players and is bolstered by 18 returning players, including tri-captains Sylla, Chrissy Gonzalez-Gandolfini ’17, Carly Swenson ’17.
“I’m very excited for this season; we have a young team including 20 underclassmen, which means we’re bringing a ton of new energy onto the field,” Swenson said. “Preseason was very competitive, and winning our scrimmage against Conn College was a great confidence booster.”
Clearly that confidence continued into the Birds’ matchup against UMass Boston, a game which showed both the team’s young energy and its veteran leadership. Frizzell joins last year’s leading goal scorer, Liz Young ’19, up top, and showed she can contribute with an assist on the eventual game-winning goal on Wednesday. Sylla showed true veteran leadership, remaining composed in the last 10 minutes of the match and giving the Birds the edge they needed.
Coyle looked solid in her first collegiate start in net. Playing with confidence in her back line, anchored by seniors Swenson and Gonzalez-Gandolfini, she faced four shots, allowing only one goal.
Nelson helped set the offensive pace for Wesleyan with nine shots and will look to keep the momentum going against Mount Holyoke on Saturday. Assists from three separate players shows a level of offensive depth the Cardinals have not had in a few years.
As Wes opens its season, it will look to improve offensively in order to earn a NESCAC post-season berth, which the squad just missed out on last season. They will face tough tests, particularly in perpetually solid Williams, Bowdoin, and Amherst. Williams, who won not only the NESCAC title but the NCAA National Championship last fall, is ranked as the number-one team in the nation thus far and is the team to beat this fall. Amherst, who fell to Middlebury in the NESCAC quarterfinals last fall, returns ranked at number 19 and will battle with Williams for the top of the NESCAC table.
On Wednesday, the Cardinals proved that when they play their best, they can compete with any squad. They will need contributions from both first-year players and returning athletes to make a serious run at postseason success. But if they can carry this winning mentality throughout the season, they stand a good chance of finishing high in the NESCAC table, and perhaps breaking into NCAA postseason play for the first time in years.