In a game that had a little bit of everything, the Wake Forest Demon Deacons (12-2, 4-2) found their first ranked win of the season, defeating the Virginia Tech Hokies (8-4-2, 2-2-2) in a 4-3 barn burner in Winston-Salem. It was a back and forth contest throughout, with both teams happily chucking numbers forward and playing quickly to try and catch the other in transition. The Hokies employed their dogged press, and the Deacs flew forward on the counter attack once they got the ball back, which led to an entertaining game played at a frenetic pace. Ultimately, it was the Hokies’ mistakes that cost them, as two clumsy penalties in the first half set the table for Wake to take this one, in spite of a spirited second half comeback. In the end, it was another great result for Wake who now appear to be well inside the bubble for the NCAA Tournament, and a tough loss for VT, who have now lost two consecutive matches.
The tone for the match was set early on, as the Hokies would have a chance inside of 30 seconds. A ball would come through to Tori Powell from Allie George, but her effort from the top of the box was blocked by Sophie Faircloth, as was Nicole Kozlova’s follow up. The tie was broken soon after in the 3rd minute, as Wake sprung a quick counter after Sophie Fairlcoth won the ball in the Deacs’ half, with Hulda Arnarsdottir dropping the ball off to Giovanna DeMarco, who gave it to Nikayla Small in space. The freshman would send a cutting ball in behind the Hokie defense, splitting Emma Stiegerwald and Allie Lewis to set up Shayla Smart, who would lash it across goal and into the back of the net. It was the Deacs’ first real attack of the game, and they made it count.
The game continued at a feverish pace, with the VT press getting home and giving the Hokies the ball in decent spots, but Wake being able to weather the storm and spring counterattacks that looked dangerous every time they broke out. Neither team would get any clear cut chances after the first goal until the 13th minute, due to a calamitous defensive sequence for the Hokies. A Jenna Menta ball being was left to bounce in the center of the area after a miscommunication between keeper Alia Skinner and Aino Vuorinen, with Hulda Arnarsdottir being the first to get to it, turning back toward the top of the box where she was chopped down clumsily by Lauren Gogal for a penalty kick. The Deacs have had their penalty woes this season, but Sofia Rossi would step up and make no mistake, hitting one with pace into the side netting just beyond the reach of Skinner to double the lead.
The Hokies weren’t out of it yet, however, as they started to create some danger with all of the possession they were having in Wake’s half, resulting in their first goal of the night in the 22nd minute. A Ryanne Brown headed clearance was claimed on the left flank Emma Pelkowski, who would put in a gorgeous ball that would land right on the foot of Tori Powell, who would get there ahead of Sophie Faircloth to roll one into the bottom corner and claw back to within one. The game continued to go back and forth, with both teams looking dangerous going forward, but now with the Hokies having the more dangerous of the attacks. They nearly doubled their lead in the 35th minute when a beautiful touch from Nicole Kozlova took her around Lyndon Wood and into the box, where she would get to the endline and send a looping ball to the other side of the area, where Tori Powell would send a dangerous ball back into the middle of the six yard box. Kaitlyn Parks was alert to it, however, and was able to stretch out and boot the ball over the endline for a corner before Emily Gray could get a touch to it.
The half settled down a bit in the final 10 minutes, and it would seem that the score would remain 2-1 at the final buzzer, as the PA announcer said that there was a minute left in the half. However, yet more clumsy defending from the Hokies would give Wake another spot kick, with Hulda Arnarsdottir collecting a scuffed clearance by Emma Stiegerwald and giving the ball off to Sofia Rossi. Rossi would pass it to Jenna Menta, who would look to turn and enter the area when she was brought down by a combination of a sliding challenge from Stiegerwald and a tackle by Allie Lewis, with the referee pointing to the penalty spot for the second time in the half with only 4 seconds left. Rossi would leave Skinner with no chance, roofing her PK to restore the Deacs’ two goal advantage going into the half.
In the second half, VT came out with a different level of intensity, and got back into the game early. They would win a long ball after the Deacs kicked off, with Emma Pelkowski working the ball up the left flank. She would play a one-two with Nicole Kozlova, and swing a ball in after getting loose on the left flank, again finding Tori Powell at the back post, who would put it into the back of the net to reduce the deficit to one again 18 seconds into the half. It was an early shock for Wake, and VT’s press was able to get the Deacs unsettled early, but they would settle back into the game, until a controversial sequence in the 61st minute would lead to a tied score.
Ryanne Brown would give up a free kick on the left side, giving Emily Gray the opportunity to send a good ball into the area. Kaitlyn Parks would come out at the near post and get nothing on it, leading to a scramble at the goal line, with Tori Powell getting a touch to it. The ball then deflected off of Sophie Faircloth and went back towards Wake’s goal, with Kristin Johnson booting it off the post and out, with Lauren Gogal’s last ditch effort to jam the ball in saved by Parks and fallen on by Johnson. However, the officials ruled that the ball had crossed the line during that sequence, and the goal was awarded to Tori Powell, giving her a hat trick. On the replay, it seemed that the ball had clearly not fully crossed the line after deflecting off of the arm of Sophie Faircloth, and also that Powell had played it with her hand prior, which would have made the goal unlawful regardless. The NCAA does have video review for soccer, and one of the matters that can be reviewed is whether or not a goal has been scored, but the officials did not go to the monitor and the goal would count.
However, only 2 minutes later, the Deacs would be back on top. Jenna Menta would get the ball on the left flank and switch the play to Shayla Smart on the right, who had Emma Stiegerwald one-on-one. She would get past Stiegerwald’s challenge and lash one on her left foot toward the near post, sneaking it into the bottom corner to restore the Deacs’ lead. It was a huge goal that killed the Hokies momentum right as they had gotten going, and moved the game back into Wake’s control. Although it remained relatively even, the Deacs started to get the better of the chances in the last 25 minutes, with a big one coming to Nikayla Small from a Jenna Menta cutback to the center of the box. She took a heavy touch, however, and couldn’t get a shot away as Makenzie Graham was able to step up and get it clear. Wake would continue to get some good counterattacks going as VT started to push more numbers forward in the last ten minutes, but a couple of decent opportunities for Sofia Rossi and Carrie McIntire would go by the wayside as the Hokies desperately searched for an equalizer. In the end, the Deacs were resolute, and gave up next to nothing on all of the attacks and set pieces VT could muster in the final moments. As the buzzer sounded, the Deacon bench rushed the field to celebrate a well deserved win with their teammates as Spry rejoiced in the background.
The performance by Wake was excellent. They went toe to toe with a VT team that will most likely not be ranked when the United Soccer Coaches poll comes out tomorrow, but that is clearly one of the toughest teams in the country and a lock for a tournament berth. The Hokies were able to earn draws against Duke and UNC, both top 5 teams right now, and likely top 10 teams in the country when this season is said and done. Wake Forest played that VT team, and were more dangerous, clinical, and resolute over the 90 minutes. After that UVA game, the Deacs were hungry for another chance against a top opponent, and they can finally say that they have a signature win after this one.
Player of the match, for me, has to be Shayla Smart for her two goals, one of which was the game winner. She looked dangerous all game out wide and finished the two big chances that she got, and you can’t ask for much better out of one of your premier attackers. Other players warrant special mentions, like Sofia Rossi, who deposited both the penalties she stepped up to take, putting an end to the Deacs’ penalty troubles this season. Nikayla Small had another wonderful game as she continues to prove that she is one of the best freshman players in the country, both going forward and in her own half. Giovanna DeMarco turned in her best shift of the season so far, Kristin Johnson continued to be a rock at the back for the Deacs, Hulda Arnarsdottir and Jenna Menta continued their good runs of form with two more great performances. Really, it was a great team performance that earned them a big victory, and an important one going into a huge matchup at home this weekend.
Friday night, the Deacs play host to the Duke Blue Devils, currently ranked #4 in the nation. They’ll likely move down in the poll after a stunning home double overtime loss to NC State in their midweek game, but they rebounded with a 5-0 victory against Pitt at the weekend, and will look to get a key ACC win against a possibly ranked Wake Forest team on the road. Kickoff is set for 7:00.