UWM Soccer: Panther women win, advance in NCAA
A speedy, determined UWM Panther soccer squad overwhelmed the Illinois State Redbirds Saturday night, 3-0, in the first round of the NCAA tournament. UWM’s record rose to 19-2, including an unbeaten run as Horizon League season and tournament champion. Illinois State, Missouri Valley Conference champion, fell to 13-6. The Panthers will play Ohio State in the next round, on Nov. 18, at a venue to be announced. OSU upset Tennessee 3-0 earlier Saturday, at Knoxville.
UWM set a furious pace at the outset and ISU could not keep up. The Panthers controlled midfield and created numerous scoring chances before and after Sarah Hagen knifed through a knot of defenders, rose high above them at the 6-yard line, and scored. Hagen executed a textbook line drive header down to the chalk, off a perfectly lofted corner kick from the left side by Keara Thompson at 3:38.
The Panthers kept the Redbirds on their heels through most of the first half. ISU tried to counter as UWM kept pressure in the attacking third, but the Panthers’ speed advantage allowed them to hustle back and mark well. They held ISU mostly to shots of 30 yards or more, easy saves for goalkeeper Jamie Forbes. The Redbirds missed one good chance when Anna Stinson sailed a diagonal cross just over the head of an unmarked Kyla Cross.
Wind was a factor throughout the game. The Panthers had the breeze at their backs in the first half. But the wind increased significantly during half time, and that even stronger breeze was in their faces in Act 2.
That might have helped ISU come out strong in the second half. The Redbirds dominated for a good 15 minutes, as the Panthers packed into a defensive mode and found themselves booting a lot of desperation clearances. ISU won several corner kicks, fired off quite a few shots, and several players showed great skill and individual effort as they tried to crack the Panther defense. The Redbirds didn’t put together passes or run to create the kind of shape that leads to elegant goals, but they did get the ball bouncing around dangerously in scrums in front of the Panther net.
Nothing found net, though, and after a while UWM regained its composure and aggressiveness. Whack-it clearances gave way to ground passes to the feet, and UWM took control of the midfield and the game. At the 73rd minute, Hagen, the NCAA goals-per-game leader, beat two defenders as she moved right to left through the box. Just beyond the penalty area to the left of the goal and with her back to the goal, Hagen abruptly turned and launched a frozen rope maybe 18 inches off the ground and headed for the far side netting. Incredibly, goalkeeper Aryn Newsom dived and got a hand on the ball — just enough to deflect it to Panther Krissy Dorre, who calmly drove it home. Eleven minutes later, Thompson put a bow on the victory with a shot very much like Hagen’s, but Newsom couldn’t touch this one.
After that, UWM put on a ball-possession clinic and strung together pass after pass to kill the clock.
This was almost certainly the final home game for Hagen, who will graduate as a Panther soccer legend. She is magnificent to watch, and I will miss her. Saturday, she not only terrorized the Redbirds in the attacking zone, but dashed back into the box to head away two ISU scoring threats when the Panthers wobbled early in the second half.
Hagen is a great athlete, perhaps the greatest ever at UWM. But these Panthers are not Snow White and the 10 Dwarves. This squad, ranked 15th or 11th in the country, depending on the poll, is strong overall. Four impressive freshman — Dorre, Amy Kauffung, Emily Scott and Kelsey Holbert — have had a lot of playing time this year. They have an excellent coach in Michael Moynihan. The Sarah Hagen era is coming to an end, but the UWM Panthers will be good again next year.
But this year’s not over. There are still Buckeyes to beat, and the team after that.
In winning Saturday night, UWM evened a score; the Panthers lost to the Redbirds 1-3 in Normal, Ill., on Oct. 23. The only other loss was to Marquette, 0-1 in double overtime, on Sept. 7. As the Panthers celebrated their win Saturday, Marquette got by Toledo 1-0 in overtime across town at Valley Fields. The Golden Eagles will face Penn State on Nov. 18.
The Panthers and MU are in different 16-team brackets. The only possible rematch this season would be in the NCAA National Championship game.
Wouldn’t that be fun?