The Wake Forest Demon Deacons women’s soccer team (7-2-2, 1-2 ACC) had a mixed bag of a week last week, earning a victory at home against then No. 14 Clemson (5-4-2, 1-3 ACC) last Thursday in dominant fashion. However, a deflating defeat would follow for the Deacs, as they’d lose the Sunday game following this victory to Virginia Tech (9-2-1, 3-1 ACC) in shutout fashion. It was a confusing pair of results, and a pair that leaves the Deacs in need of yet another rebound, as they only have one win in their last four games. This afternoon, Syracuse (8-3-0, 1-2 ACC) offers the Deacs this opportunity, with the Orange coming down to Winston-Salem for their, and the Deacs’, fourth ACC clash of the season. It’s a pivotal matchup for both teams, but before we look ahead to today’s game, looking back at the two results from last week is necessary.
The Deacs were reeling from a heartbreaking loss on the road in Raleigh when they hosted a Clemson team that was riding high and carrying the No. 14 ranking. It was a game that the Deacs needed to have, and in the early goings, they were certainly playing like a team that wanted to win badly. However, after a cagey, back and forth start, the Tigers would open the scoring. In the 25th minute, Maliah Morris received the ball on the right flank from Caroline Conti, took on her defender, and looped one over Kaitlyn Parks’ head and into the side netting for a stunning goal to open the scoring. It came out of nowhere, with Clemson not even having a shot up to that point, but the Deacs would respond in incredible fashion. 12 seconds later, a botched clearance by a Clemson defender on a ball across from Liv Stowell would put the ball right into the feet of Alex Wood, who would roof it from close range to tie the game right back up for the Deacs. Wake came alive after the goal, really putting Clemson under some pressure for the rest of the half. In the 34th minute, the Deacs found another goal to take the lead. In the 34th minute, Kristin Johnson sent a long ball into the box that Clemson defender Megan Bornkamp couldn’t adequately clear, giving sophomore Demon Deacon midfielder Emily Morris the ball at the edge of the penalty box. Morris created space for herself to take a shot, then curled the ball into the side netting with her left foot, giving her a third goal on the season. It was a pivotal moment in the game, and one that gave the Deacs a huge advantage as the halftime whistle blew.
In the second half, the game followed much of the same flow as it did in the first half, with Wake dominating the Tigers. In the 54th minute, the Deacs added another goal for some insurance, with a well worked set piece by Emily Morris and Liv Stowell resulting in freshman defender Allie Schmidt getting a chance at the top of the six yard box. She would lift it over Clemson keeper Halle Mackiewicz to extend Wake’s lead to two. This one felt like a backbreaker for Clemson, who looked totally sapped of energy and drive after the third goal went in. The Deacs would put it to bed a few minutes later, as, in the 60th minute, a perfectly played ball over the top from Alex Wood found Carrie McIntire in behind, and McIntire would play it across to Liv Stowell, who looped it into the far corner to give the Deacs a fourth goal and send Spry into delirium. The Deacs continued to control proceedings for the final 30 minutes, and when the final whistle sounded, Wake had picked up a statement result.
Head coach Tony da Luz had nothing but positive things to say about the Deacs’ performance: “It was an unbelievable team performance tonight. A lot of kids stepped up under tough circumstances. We were challenged with a lot of injuries and missing a lot of players, and the reserves came in and were game changers, and they all came in and had a really fantastic performance and stuck exactly to the game plan that we wanted to. It was a complete performance. I can’t say too much about it.”
This game also saw a tactical shift from da Luz, who switched from a less aggressive 4-3-3 to a very proactive and energetic 4-4-2 diamond in this game. He had the following to say about that switch: “Well, personnel availability kind of forced the issue, but also Clemson’s two center backs can really destroy you with their longer range passing and ability to break teams down, so we wanted to get pressure on them. Those two strikers were doing a really good job of putting immediate pressure on them and really we wanted to keep the ball wide as much as possible, away from 15, Hirschfeld is a fantastic player. So I think we did a really good job of just controlling that and minimizing their better players.” When asked about the volume of chances that the Deacs created in this formation, da Luz laughed: “Maybe we stay with the 4-4-2. You know, we created some really good chances and I thought the quality of the goals was really good. Sowe have the capability and we have the players to be able to produce goals.”
Ultimately da Luz really emphasized the importance of the win, especially after their loss in Raleigh: “On the day at NC State, I thought we played really well. On the road I thought we put ourselves in a good position to win the game and we just didn’t close it out and made a couple mistakes, which is not typical for us. But the performance I had no problem with. I didn’t want to overblow it or anything. There’s 10 games in the ACC if you win five or six, you’re in good shape. And if you can win more than that, then you’re in contention for the ACC tournament and a championship. So this is just a great three points and a great performance that’s gonna lift our team.”
Liv Stowell, my player of the game in this one, also spoke with me after the game about her role in this team: “There were a lot of seniors that left and I think being a junior, I really have to step up and inspire all the younger players. And I just think my mentality is here. I deserve to be here. So I’ve been trying my best to put everything I can on the field.” Stowell also spoke about the press and how much she enjoys playing in a system like the one Wake employs: “I think it’s really awesome. When you press, really press, all together as a team, when it’s not just one individual, you can win the ball and really create stuff in the 18 yard box. I just think it’s worked really well in our favor so far, and I’m excited to see where the game goes on Sunday with their pressing and opportunities in the box.”
After the emotional win in the midweek game, the Deacs returned to action on Sunday, but it was a much different game than the one on Thursday. Virginia Tech came into this game and forced the Deacs into a sloppier game. Their energy was very good, and, although neither team had that many chances, it would be the Hokies who would take the lead late on in the first half. In the 40th minute, Lauren Gogal would get on the end of a set piece and send the ball back across after no one got anything on the initial ball. She would find Sophie Maltese at the back post, who would head it in for her fourth goal of the season, and to give the Hokies a huge goal on the road. VT hadn’t had many chances in the half, but Wake wasn’t faring much better, and it looked as if the Deacs would have an uphill battle to take a result from this game. This battle would have to wait for the second half, as the Deacs couldn’t muster a response before the buzzer sounded.
The second half was not much better than the first for the Deacs. Wake was still having trouble breaking down a VT team that was so organized. They were also a touch sloppy in possession, allowing the Hokies a lot of comfort early on. In the 66th minute, after 20 minutes of stalemate, the Hokies would find yet another goal. This time it was Taylor Bryan, who lashed one into the upper 90 of the near post off of a feed from Allie George. And with that, it felt as if the game had gone out of the Deacs’ reach. Wake did fight to try to find a way back into this game late on, and they did get a fair few chances, but none of them would result in a goal, leaving the Deacs with a 1-2 record in conference when the final whistle blew and dropping them to 7-2-2.
Last week’s games were interesting, as, although Clemson entered as a ranked team and VT entered without receiving a vote in the poll, this week they’ll likely be flipped, as Clemson is now in a three game slide that has taken them all the way out of the rankings, and VT is on a three game winning run, including wins over No. 22 NC State and No. 3 UNC that could possibly propel them into the teens or higher in the poll. Today, though, the Deacs face a different challenge with the Orange of Syracuse coming to Winston-Salem. This is a game that the Deacs absolutely need to win, as the Orange have been a team that has been a punching bag in the ACC since their arrival. They haven’t finished over .500 in conference since arriving in the ACC, with their best mark coming in 2015 when they went 3-7. Since then, they have finished winless in the ACC twice, going 0-10 in 2018 and 2021. They at least will not do that this season, as they sit at 1-2, most recently defeating Miami, another basement dweller in the conference, and losing close to both UNC and Duke. Their record sits at 8-3 after mostly running through a weak non conference schedule, although they did get shellacked 6-0 by a UConn team that sits at 5-4-1 right now. To put it plainly, the Deacs are certainly expected to win this game at home, even with the injuries they are dealing with. In a spot where they need a result badly, they cannot afford to overlook this team. Kickoff is set for 12:00 at Spry.