The record-setting senior class for the Wake Forest women's soccer team lived to play another day thanks to a moment of brilliance from a freshman.
Sarah Teegarden broke open a 0-0 draw with a long-range rocket into the side netting in the 81st minute and the Deacs held on for dear life at the end to advance past Penn State to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Women's Soccer Tournament last night in Charlottesville, Va.
The teams were evenly matched from the start. Penn State, behind active NCAA scoring leader Maya Hayes, was able to keep control early, but stellar defending by the Wake back line - particularly central defenders Caralee Keppler and Kim Marshall - prevented any serious chances. Indeed, this would prove to be the crucial matchup for the Deacs throughout, as Keppler and Marshall played nearly flawlessly in tandem, alternating on-the-ball pressure with dropping into space to thoroughly confound the Nittany Lions and leave goalie Aubrey Bledsoe with few worries.
After the first five minutes or so, the Deacs began playing their way into the game offensively, building attacks from the defensive midfield. Still, the creativity appeared to be lacking in the final third, and neither side looked in any danger of scoring in the first 30 minutes.
The first real chance of the game came in the 35th minute. Wake right back Kendall Fischlein pushed forward into the attack, and was able to juke two defenders with one move near the Penn State touchline. Fischlein found forward Riley Ridgik near the six yard box, and Ridgik's presence drew Penn State goalie Britt Eckerstrom off her line. However, Ridgik cleverly tapped the ball back to Fischlein, who had kept moving after the initial pass, resulting in a wide open look from 10 yards with Eckerstrom out of position (and screened by Ridgik and her defender). Fischlein was unable to put the ball on target, as her left-footed shot floated just over the crossbar.
The second half brought more of the same, and Wake had another opportunity to take the lead in the 70th minute. A long, high ball played forward from right back Jessica Mandarich caught Eckerstrom in no-man's land, and Ridgik was able to beat the onrushing goalie to the ball. However, Ridgik's header from the top of the box rolled harmlessly wide of the post.
The breakthrough came dramatically. A cross in from Fischlein was headed clear by a Nittany Lion defender, but to the center of the field. Teegarden, pushing up from her defensive midfield position, was able to beat the Penn State players to the ball and took the shot with her first touch. Eckerstrom was able to dive and get her hands on the ball, but such was the velocity of the 25-yard shot that she could only push it into the side netting. It was Teegarden's first goal in her Wake career.
After the goal, the Nittany Lions definitely increased their urgency in attacks, and Wake seemed content to hoof the ball clear rather than counterattack with any menace. The Wake backline continued to hold strong, and Penn State ended up with only one real scoring chance before the end of the game: in the 88th minute, Bledsoe's only miscue of the day - a punched cross that did not escape the danger zone - fell to Tani Costa, whose shot from 25 yards whistled just by the post.
With the win, the Deacs will play #1 seeded Virginia (a 1-0 winner over Georgetown yesterday) on Sunday at 5 p.m. in Charlottesville. The Wahoos beat the Deacs 2-0 in the regular season as part of their perfect regular season run. The game was the first game following the news of Katie Stengel's blood clots.
- I really, really cannot stress enough how impressive the Wake defense was in this game. The positioning was superb, the defensive midfield did a wonderful job of backtracking and swarming the ball as soon as it entered any dangerous areas, and the result was a thoroughly de-clawed Nittany Lions attack. It was definitely the best defensive performance of the season for the Deacs, which bodes well heading into the next game.
- Virginia put in the best performance against Wake of any team I saw during the regular season. The final 2-0 scoreline flattered the Deacs considerably. With that being said, tournament soccer is weird, and all Wake has to do is squeeze out the ball in dangerous areas like they did today to force a penalty shoot-out (read: a coin flip).
- Not a record, but a place in history: Aubrey Bledsoe moved into second place on the all-time NCAA minutes list for goalkeepers. Bledsoe currently has played 8,607:09 in the net, trailing only the 8,853:12 that Emily Olesksiuk played for Penn State from 1998-2001. For Bledsoe to beat the record, she would need at least 3 additional games, which means Wake would have to make the College Cup.
- This is horribly speculative, but by my completely made up math, Wake has a chance to host the Elite Eight game in its region. As the home first-round team in the bracket sub-section with #4-seeded Penn State, that makes the Deacs the unofficial #5 seed in the region. The other Sweet Sixteen game features #3 seed Michigan vs the unofficial #10 seed Notre Dame. So if the Irish win, the Deacs would seem to be in line to host that game: a rematch of a 1-1 draw in South Bend in October.
- Speaking of Notre Dame, the ACC once again is proving itself to be the utterly ridiculous women's soccer league it is generally assumed to be. All 8 ACC teams made it through to the Sweet Sixteen. Conference record: 15-0-1, with Duke advancing past Colorado College on PKs in the first round. Conference goal differential: 41-4. Step up your game, everyone that's not in the ACC.
- The Wake men will also play Sunday at 5 p.m. in their second round NCAA Tournament game against Navy. I'm pretty upset over not being able to catch both games (the women's game, as the game was today, will stream for free online via VirginiaSports.com). If one of the other BSD authors wants to cover one, just let me know in the comments.
(1) Virginia 1, Georgetown 0
Notre Dame 1, Western Michigan 0
(1) Virginia Tech 1, West Virginia 0
Duke 1, (2) Florida 0
Boston College 4, (2) Nebraska 1
(1) Florida State 3, Mississippi 1
(1) North Carolina 4, Indiana 0