The Wake Forest Demon Deacons women’s soccer team began their season this past week, leading off with a Thursday night opener against the Milwaukee Panthers and capping the week with a Sunday night matchup against the University of Rhode Island Rams. The Deacs got exactly what they needed out of both games, earning multi-goal victories in both. With a few question marks surrounding the squad going into the week, it felt as if the team put a few of those concerns to rest.
The season began Thursday in front of a record student crowd of 813 against a Milwaukee program that seems to be in murky waters. Last season they boasted a 19-2 record, but they’re now in the post-Troy Fabiano era, as the former Panthers head coach took up the same position at Kentucky this past offseason. In addition to the loss of their coach, 9 of their starters departed, leaving newly appointed but very experienced head coach Kevin Boyd with a team that lacked starting experience. The Deacs also lost a fair few starters last year and were without Nikayla Small, Zara Chavoshi, and Giovanna DeMarco for this game. They looked like a squad that was acclimating to one another in this game at a few points, especially early on as a freshman-heavy spine struggled to play out of the back. However, freshman debutant Hannah Johnson looked to fit right in, and she got the Deacs off to an early lead in the fifth minute on a tap-in from a driven cross from Liv Stowell. It was a sign of how the night would continue for Stowell and Tyla Ochoa, who got the secondary assist on the goal, as their right-sided connection tore through the Panther back line. It was a strong game for the Deacon midfield and forwards for the most part, with the Deacs’ press being very effective at suffocating Milwaukee in their own end. It did feel as if the Deacs left a couple of goals out on the field in the first half, but they went into the break up a goal and looking dominant.
In the second half, Wake looked a lot more comfortable, playing better on the ball, creating plenty of chances, and continuing their strong defensive performance. In the 54th minute, the Deacs got their reward, with another freshman debutant, Caiya Hanks, bombing down the left flank and cutting back inside to feed Emily Morris at the top of the box, who would take a touch to enter the area and slam it in at the near post. It was her first collegiate goal after registering two assists in her freshman season, and it was a deserved one after the performance she put in. The chances kept on coming for the Deacs, but they were unable to convert another one and increase their lead. But it didn’t matter in the end, as Wake continued to put in an excellent defensive effort, securing a shutout victory at home to move to 1-0. There were a lot of very encouraging performances in this game for the Deacs, with Malaika Meena coming back to the squad looking like a more refined, confident player, Kristin Johnson looking like a more mature and confident defender, and Hannah Johnson looking like an asset in possession and a fox in the box. But for me, the player of the game was Emily Morris. Morris got most of her time last season at left back and played some of the spring on the left flank, so her inclusion in the midfield three was a bit of a surprise. Morris looked sharp throughout, however, winning a smattering of duels and tackles, pressing, and showing some ability going forward, including a big goal to seal the game in the second half. Overall, it was a strong team performance that a lot of new faces contributed to, which is always encouraging early on in the season.
The Deacs returned to action on a rainy Sunday night in Winston-Salem, hosting URI after the Rams’ 4-0 defeat to NC State. This game saw the return of captain Giovanna DeMarco to the lineup, and her impact was immediately evident. While there was still a bit of sloppiness playing out of the back, Wake’s play was much more crisp and confident passing out of their own end. The Deacs were once again putting a lot of pressure on their opponents, and they once again would take an early lead through the aforementioned DeMarco, who jammed in a loose ball from a corner in the 7th minute. Wake continued to take it to URI, when out of the blue the Rams found themselves level with a goal against the run of play. Brooke Cavino received the ball from Sam Hagerty a few yards outside the area, popped it up, and struck it on the half volley off of the underside of the bar and over the line. The Rams hadn’t yet had a touch in Wake’s penalty area, but through a wonder goal they were back in the game.
The momentum didn’t shift much at all, though, and Wake continued to put the Rams under pressure. They were gifted a golden opportunity to take the lead back in the 29th minute, as Kristin Johnson would head the ball downward from a corner, after which it would deflect off of the ground, Giovanna DeMarco, and the arm of Rhode Island defender Evelin Dapprich. The official awarded Wake a penalty kick, but Sophie Faircloth blazed it over the crossbar. It wouldn’t take long for the Deacs to find their second goal, however, as in the 30th minute freshman Alex Wood corralled a loose ball near the top of the area, cut back inside, and ripped one from distance to give Wake the lead once again. It was her first collegiate goal, and the second wasn’t far behind, as in the 40th minute Taryn Chance received a switch out to the left flank and then slipped the ball through to Malaika Meena. Meena cut it back to Wood, who would take a touch to turn her defender and set up a shot on her right foot, and one that was blistered past Carly Travers at her near post. With this, Wake went into the half with a two goal cushion looking dominant, although they couldn’t quite find a dagger despite a slew of excellent chances, better than most of those they created against Milwaukee.
The Deacs came out for the second half no longer needing to fight the rain, but a lightning strike near the stadium would send the teams back into their locker rooms a few moments later for a weather delay. After play resumed, Wake continued to control proceedings, although the game settled into a more calm flow. The Deacs got a few more big chances, and finally capitalized on one in the 70th minute when Liv Stowell jammed in another set piece to extend the lead to three and put any faint hopes of a comeback to rest. Wake saw out the remaining 20 minutes and left Spry at 2-0 after another dominant victory. There was a clear player of the game in this one, as Alex Wood was active and clinical for Wake and netted a brace as a result. However, a few other players do still deserve acknowledgement. It was another good game for Malaika Meena and Emily Morris, both of whom seem to be ready to take a big step up this year. Giovanna DeMarco looked as sharp as ever anchoring the midfield, and Allie Schmidt, Kristin Johnson, and the returning Zara Chavoshi all looked solid behind her. Ultimately, it was another strong, encouraging performance for Wake as they head into a tricky pair of games next week.
With their first week games in the books, Wake will head into a pair of power conference matchups in week two, hosting Georgia on Thursday at 5:00 as part of a double header with the men’s team, then hosting Auburn for a Sunday matinee at 1:00. They should be a tough couple of games for the Deacs, but they’ve shown so far that they’re up to the challenge.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was written by Chris Amaral.