The Wake Forest Demon Deacons (8-0) finished up their non-conference schedule against the Maryland Terrapins (4-2-2), seeing off the Terps by a score of 2-0 to remain undefeated heading into conference play. Wake was not able to impose its will on the game in the same way it had against its last few opponents, but Maryland were held to very few chances as the Demon Deacon backline and midfield dominated in their own third. It was a good test to what this team could do against a Power 5 opponent, and most of the signs out of this game were positive.
The first 15-20 minutes of this game were wide open, with the two midfields in a dogfight for second balls, with neither team really being able to create any good looks going forward. The Terps would get the first decent opportunity of the game, with a ball across from Mikayla Dayes flashing across goal for Keyera Wynn, but Kaitlyn Parks was able to come out and prevent stifle her effort, getting into a big collision in the process, although she would remain in the game.
Soon after, Wake would open the scoring, as in the 21st minute Sofia Rossi would get on the end of a Sophie Faircloth ball in behind, but be stripped by Maryland defender Olivia Hicks. Rossi would deflect her clearance attempt, and the ball would bounce back to another Terp defender, whose clearance would deflect off of Nikayla Small and bounce right into the path of Lauren Tangney, who would lace the ball into the roof of the net on her left foot with no one around her to score her first collegiate goal on her senior night. The whole team would mob her just outside the area while her assembled family and friends went berserk in the stands.
After the goal, the game would go back into a bit of a flux state, with Wake’s backline not allowing any progress from the Maryland forwards but the Deacs not being able to create anything concrete going forward. They would almost score a second in the 36th minute when Malaika Meena got on the end of a Carrie McIntire through ball and sent it back across the six yard box, but Olivia Hicks was able to intervene before Jenna Menta could tap it in. With the Deacs leading and not having given up much, they went into the half feeling happy about their performance, but knowing that they needed more.
Wake came out of the break and absolutely dominated the first 10 minutes of the second half, and should have scored at least one goal during that span. In the 47th minute, Nikayla Small got on the end of a Shayla Smart ball and turned a defender to take a left footed shot at the near post, with Maryland keeper Liz Brucia saving it onto the post to keep the score at 1-0. Another chance would come in the 49th minute when Ryanne Brown collected a cross from Hulda Arnarsdottir and cut it back to Jenna Menta, who dragged her effort from 15 yards out wide of the far post. Brown would set up Arnarsdottir for another big chance in the 51st minute, with her cutting deep cross in behind finding Arnarsdottir in tight with the goal, but it rolled over the top of her foot and settled onto the top of the net.
The flurry continued in the 52nd minute when another long cutting ball from Ryanne Brown found its way in behind, as this time Nikayla Small collected it near the top of the box and rounded the keeper Brucia, but her shot from a tight angle would hit the side netting. The biggest chance of this spell fell to Shayla Smart, who found herself on the end of a Sophie Faircloth cutback all alone 16 yards from goal, but her effort was pushed away beautifully by Brucia. Brucia would be forced into another big save by Sophie Faircloth, who was sent through by Malaika Meena, but her elevated effort with eyes for the far corner was parried out for a corner by the Maryland keeper.
The game returned to a more balanced state for its remainder, with Wake preventing any real chances for Maryland, who did find their way onto the break a couple of times but never created any real chances from these opportunities, but not getting good looks at goal like they had in the first 10 minutes of the half. The Deacs would begin to try to wind the game down as the clock hit 70 minutes, as they controlled and possessed the ball well with the primary intention of taking the clock. Eventually, they would find a second goal late in the game, with Faith Adams collecting a second ball in the left side of the midfield and sending it through to Sophie Faircloth, who was all alone down the left flank. She would take her space inside and square it to Jenna Menta, who was parked in front of goal inside the six yard box, and the graduate transfer would make no mistake in tapping it into the open goal to wrap up the points for Wake Forest. As the buzzer sounded 3 minutes later, Wake got their first Power 5 win of the season in their first attempt, and did so with relative comfort.
After the game, I got to speak with head coach Tony Da Luz, who had this to say about his team’s performance and the streak they’ve been on so far: “I’m just super proud of the kids. We’ve made history, I mean 8-0, 8 shutouts to start the season, it’s unbelievable, and today I thought we showed well. We really dominated the ball, they had a few counter attacks here and there but overall we dominated the ball and created chances, I wish we could have put a couple more chances away, but it was good preparation for us, Maryland is a tough team, they’re athletic, they played some good soccer, so hopefully this helps us in the next round on Friday.”
He also spoke about his team’s resolve to get this result: “Sundays at 1:00 are difficult, it’s so hot today and coming off of Thursday’s game where we dominated the game, it didn’t help us for this game as far as speed of play goes. I think tactically we were very smart down the stretch, we did a good job of eliminating any counter attacks, we kept the ball wide and killed the game off. And that second goal was brilliant, [Sophie Faircloth] was so patient to find the open player for the tap in, it was fantastic. I thought Faith Adams did a really good job as a sub just controlling the midfield, she made really smart decisions getting the ball out wide. That second goal was her little split pass that led to the goal. It’s great to see players contribute in big games. I’m happy with where we’re at, but we have a whole different monster coming at us in the ACC, and this game will help us with that.”
Coach Da Luz also spoke about his team’s response coming out of the halftime break: “We knew they had an overtime game on Thursday and a lot of travel so I thought that in the second half we would be able to control things, and we did a good job of controlling things, keeping the ball wide, I thought our tackling, our ball winning was good, in transition we were good defensively, if we turned it over we got back pretty quickly. This game had a little bit of everything for us. Set pieces, had to deal with a little bit of everything, so it’s good preparation for next Friday.”
He also had high praise for his freshman class: “We wouldn’t be where we’re at without them, we literally don’t have a backline if we don’t have these freshmen perform. I thought Zara [Chavoshi] and Kristin [Johnson] have been growing into the position every game, both did well today, and then Tyla [Ochoa] as usual gave us a really solid performance, Ryanne [Brown] was really good on the right as well. Malaika [Meena] and Nikki [Small], you know what you’re gonna get every game. They’re learning on the job and they’re putting in some high quality minutes. We’ll find out next Friday how mature they are.”
He was also thrilled to see Lauren Tangney get a goal on her senior night: “Oh my god, I was so happy for her. She’s absolutely loved on this team, she’s such a positive unconditional teammate. She just missed one earlier at the beginning and everybody was ready to run on the field, and then for her to score, the kids went crazy, everyone is so happy for her. She’s a kid that just every day comes to training with a smile on her face.”
I was also able to speak with senior night honoree Lauren Tangney, who spoke about getting her first collegiate goal on her senior night: “It was really really special, something I’ve wanted for a while, but more importantly it was nice to contribute, everyone on this team is just so hardworking and the minutes that you get are really special, and I’m happy that I could help propel us forward into next week.”
She also spoke about what is different about this year’s team to the ones she has been on in years past: “I think we definitely have a really special team, with the youth and the energy that we have as well as the experience that we’re showing and the culture that we really want to instill. It’s a special program that goes really deep, we’ve learned from great people who have come before us, I think it’s awesome to experience that same culture as a freshman and being able to bring it to these new players as a senior.”
As a senior, she spoke about what it means to her to see the hands this program is going into with this new freshman class: “It’s awesome, I think the program is in really great hands, we have amazing players that have been able to contribute early, and it’s awesome to see the attitude that even the players that aren’t getting time have, and how much they’re pushing to get on the field. As a freshman myself that didn’t play much I really love to see freshmen that are super positive and are pushing each other every day in practice.”
Finally, she spoke about how she feels to continue the shutout streak, and how the team feels going into ACC play with this kind of momentum: “Every day in practice we’re working hard, and I’m glad to see that it’s transitioned onto the field. Our hard work has really paid off on both sides of the ball, and as nice as it is to win, I think it’s really really nice to say on the other side of the ball we’ve been putting our bodies on the line and making sure we’re keeping clean sheets. I think we have a lot of confidence, obviously the ACC is so competitive, but we’re excited to play good teams, we’re excited to make a name for ourselves. I think a lot of people haven’t appreciated what we’ve done so far, and I think that they’re undervaluing us in a way, so we’re excited to start ACC play and show that we can compete with the best.”
I also spoke with freshman Nikayla Small about her first experience against a Power 5 opponent: “It feels good, it makes me have confidence going into the ACC, we’re 8-0 right now and we’re just building that momentum going into the next game which is really important, especially with a really young team, so I’m really excited to see what happens.”
Small has been very dangerous going forward so far this season, so I asked her about what in her mindset or game allows her to be such a dangerous player: “Honestly, it’s just having the confidence to turn, the confidence to take players on. No one is better than you, you’re not better than anyone else. So I just think with every player ‘if I can beat her, I know I can beat the next player.’ So I just go in with that mindset, ‘I can beat her.’”
She spoke about how special it was for her to be able to set up Lauren Tangney with her senior night goal from her pressure: “She deserves it, I know how much she means to the program and it was on her senior night. I’m glad that I was able to contribute, even just getting a block on it, I knew it was in the box, that’s why I ran so hard for it, since there was no one else around, so getting a deflection and it falling perfectly to her to have an open shot was just amazing, it was the best night ever for her.”
I also asked about how the coaching staff has been able to help her adapt to the college game so quickly: “They’ve just encouraged me to do what I’ve done in the past, and helping me grow my game through film and recovery, giving me different tips and tidbits to help me grow as a player.”
Finally, I asked Nikayla about the importance of keeping this momentum going into league play: “It’s very key. I’ve never played an ACC game before so I’m very excited to see how competitive it is. I’ve been able to talk to the seniors and the sophomores and they said it’s gonna be fun but it’s gonna be tricky, so just building my confidence and the team’s confidence and going in 8-0 is very key for us. We’ll do good, I’m pretty sure of it.”
To give my closing remarks, I’d like to say that my player of the match was Nikayla Small, she seemed to be at the center of almost every dangerous chance Wake created in this game. I also want to give special props to the entirety of the midfield and defense, who were absolutely lights out in this game where they had a lot more defending to do, with Zara Chavoshi, Kristin Johnson, Sophie Faircloth, and Faith Adams warranting special mentions in my opinion after their shutdown performances in the middle. It was a team effort, and you’d have a very tough time finding a Deac that didn’t have a great performance in this one.
The Deacs will open up ACC play next week against the team ranked No. 3 in the nation as of the most recent United Soccer Coaches Poll (from September 7th), the Virginia Cavaliers, with kickoff set for 5:00 PM at Spry as part of a doubleheader with the men’s team, who face Pitt at 8:00.