The Wake Forest Demon Deacons women’s soccer team (6-0-2) will be back in action tonight against NC State (5-1-3) in their first conference clash of the season. They come into this game still without a loss, and having picked up their sixth win and second draw last week, against Maryland and Loyola Maryland respectively. Both games were slogs to get through, with little of note really happening in either game. They were sound defensive performances, but it feels as if Wake is still finding out who their forwards are, and they’re struggling with the loss of Nikayla Small for the season, who was such an integral part of the attack for Wake. But even with these problems, Wake still has a good record, and could start off their ACC campaign in the right way in Raleigh tonight. But before looking ahead to tonight, let’s look back at this past week’s games.
On Thursday, the Deacs traveled to College Park for the away leg of their home and home series with the Maryland Terrapins (2-1-5) that began last year. Much like last year’s contest, the game was a very sloppy, hard fought competition between two teams with very similar styles. The two teams combined for three shots total in a first half that was very much a slog all the way through. Wake’s defensive performance shone through again, making the game very hard on Maryland at home. Going forward, though, Wake still looked disconnected, failing to create any real chances of note against a Maryland team who have made it a habit this year of being a very tough team to score on. When the whistle blew to send the two squads into the locker room, the score remained tied at zero, and deservedly so.
In the second half, however, things got a bit more lively. Wake was able to get a bit more going forward in the second half, particularly down the flanks, as Liv Stowell began to come alive. It was still a slog, though, as Wake couldn’t quite put their chances away. Wake was still able to make the game tough on Maryland during this spell as well, continuing to muck up the midfield. Eventually, Wake found a reward for their good spell in the 66th minute, when Emily Morris sent the ball up the left flank to Liv Stowell. Stowell was able to get loose and cut inside, shooting on goal but having it blocked away. It fell right back to her, however, and she squared it back to Giovanna DeMarco, who lashed it into the roof of the net to give Wake the lead. It was a lead that they would ultimately hold onto, as, although Maryland would put a bit more pressure on the Deacs late in the game, they didn’t create any real chances and would be shut out for the first time this year. It was a gritty team performance that saw a few solid individual efforts as well. Liv Stowell’s second half warrants a mention, as does Zara Chavoshi’s performance over the 90 minutes. But for me, I think the player of the game was Giovanna DeMarco. DeMarco was a big reason as to why Maryland got pretty much nothing going all game, and on top of that was able to score the goal to secure an important result for Wake.
The Deacs then finished their road trip with a game in Baltimore, taking on the Loyola Maryland Greyhounds (4-3-2) in their final non conference game. This game was much more of the same from Wake, but they never seemed to turn the corner. It was a bit more back and forth of a game than the Thursday night game in College Park, but neither team was able to create too much of anything in the first half. Loyola was giving Wake a bit more trouble, both with the press and on the counter, but they weren’t able to get too many clean looks on goal. Wake had very little going up the other end, doing little with a fair amount of possession, showing the same lack of connectivity that had plagued them the last few games. The Deacs went into the half all square with the Greyhounds. Unlike the Maryland game, though, the Deacs never quite found the chances they needed to in order to win this game. Although they were able to get a couple of touches in the box, especially late on in the game, they couldn’t really find a shot on net. Loyola was still looking to be a threat on the counter as well, but ultimately couldn’t net one either. With the two teams caught in a slog that neither could emerge from, the final whistle sounded, ending the game in a 0-0 draw. It was a game with few positives for Wake, as this was a team that they were certainly expected to beat, but the defense continued to be a bright spot. For me, Zara Chavoshi was the player of the match in this one, anchoring a backline that notched its seventh shutout in eight games.
With the Deacs still undefeated, they’ll have one of their biggest tests of the season tonight, facing the NC State Wolfpack at the Dail Soccer Field in Raleigh. State has had a strong start to their season, sitting at 5-1-3 so far, including draws with No. 5 South Carolina and then No. 11 Georgetown (who are now just receiving votes). All of their wins have come against teams that they were expected to beat, including a 3-1 victory over High Point, who Wake beat 7-0. They sit in a position not too different from where they were last year, when they finished 9-9-2 and 4-6 in the ACC. National outlets certainly seem to think that this is a different Wolfpack squad this year, though, as NC State received votes in the United Soccer Coaches Poll as recently as August 30th. This is a program that has been consistently solid in recent years, making the last five NCAA Tournaments under head coach Tim Santoro, who took the program from being an afterthought to being a solid middle of the pack squad in the best women’s soccer conference in the country. Wake and State are two teams that know each other well, as they’ve played each other every year since 2018. Wake has had the better of the series over this span, winning three of their last four meetings and tying one. Last season, it took an error from State keeper Maria Echezarreta on a long distance effort from Giovanna DeMarco to lift Wake over the top last year in a game that Wake survived more than they dominated. The two squads also played a game in the spring, with the result being a 1-1 draw at Spry. These are two teams that have a lot of film on each other, and two teams that know how critical it is to win games against other teams that will likely sit in the middle of the conference. It is a very important game for both, and it should be an interesting contest.
Kickoff is set for 7:00, and the game will be broadcast on the ACC Network.