The Wake Forest Demon Deacons women’s soccer team (6-1-2, 0-1 ACC) faltered for the first time on Sunday, dropping a 2-1 decision in Raleigh to give NC State (6-1-3, 1-0 ACC) a winning start to their conference schedule. It was a frustrating game for Wake, and one they’d definitely like to have back given the way in which they lost. They have no time to feel sorry for themselves, however, as a pair of pivotal matchups are set for this week, the first of which is a Thursday night clash with No. 14 Clemson (5-1-2, 1-0), who have picked up some serious momentum in their last few games that has propelled them 10 spots up the rankings. They then return to action on Sunday, hosting the Virginia Tech Hokies (6-2-1, 0-1 ACC), who began their ACC schedule with a whimper in a thorough loss to Pittsburgh, but they’ll be looking to make up for that result this week with a pair of games in North Carolina that could keep their season on track. While these are critical games, we first need to revisit Sunday’s result in Raleigh and where it leaves Wake now.
On Sunday night, Wake opened up conference play at Dail Soccer Field in Raleigh looking for a win against an NC State team that had started the season hot and had some expectations going into ACC play. As has been typical for Wake this year, they made the game very tough on their opponents, really keeping State away from the goal for much of the first half. In addition, they were able to keep their foot on the ball for most of the half, playing a lot less sloppily than they had been over the first few games of the year. Wake wasn’t creating all that many concrete chances, but looked the more likely of the two teams to score, especially after Liv Stowell had a shot tipped onto the crossbar by Maria Echezarreta. The goal would end up coming for Wake in the 35th minute, and through an unlikely source. The Deacs had a set piece from deep that Zara Chavoshi stepped up to take. Chavoshi sent a long ball forward to the right side of the area near the penalty spot, where Laurel Ansbrow would connect with a looping header that would find its way over the head of Echezarreta and over the line to give Wake the lead and notch her first collegiate goal. And with that, Wake went into the half in control and up a goal, sitting in poll position to get a great road result.
The second half felt like much more of the same for the first 20 minutes or so, with Wake doing well holding the ball and keeping the Wolfpack from getting anything going forward. In the last 25 minutes, though, State started pushing hard for a goal, and the Deacs weren’t quite responding. Things got a little sloppier for Wake on the ball as the Pack began to press, and the Deacs’ press wasn’t getting there on the other end as State began to pass quickly and with a lot more purpose. The sloppiness in the backline for Wake was giving State the ball in very dangerous spots, which eventually led to their first goal in the 78th minute. Zara Chavoshi tried to give a ball up to the midfield to exit Wake’s half, but there was no Wake player in the area, leaving two Wolfpack players with nothing but space between them and the backline going forward. They worked the ball out wide to Leyah Hall-Robinson, who would get loose down the right flank and send it across. Annika Wohner trapped it with her back to goal, and Alexis Strickland would run onto the ball and smack it into the net, tying the game in dramatic fashion.
The Pack wasn’t done, though, as only six minutes later they would find a second goal. Center back Jenna Butler sent a long ball forward to Jameese Joseph, who would find herself one on one with Kaitlyn Parks after spinning Zara Chavoshi, who got caught trying to step up and hold up Joseph. Joseph would slip it past the onrushing Parks for State’s second goal, which would wind up being the winner. The Deacs couldn’t muster a second goal despite a late push, and the final whistle blew with State having stolen one away from the Deacs. For me, the player of the game in this one was Alexis Strickland, who was extremely active in this one, and although she missed a chance or two, she was opportunistic with her goal and was solid in this game throughout. This game also saw a couple of solid performances for the Pack otherwise, including solid games from Jenna Butler, Jameese Joseph, and Leyah Hall-Robinson, who were all key contributors throughout the 90 minutes and to the key moments that won NC State the game.
The game against NC State will sting Wake for a while, but they have no time to sulk, as they’re back in action tonight against the Clemson Tigers, who have recently become one of the darlings of national women’s soccer media. The Tigers had an innocuous enough start, beginning their season 2-1-1, issuing a pair of beatings against Campbell and Western Carolina, taking a draw against a solid Texas A&M team, and suffering a 3-0 thumping in Tuscaloosa against No. 6 Alabama. But after taking a draw from No. 8 South Carolina, Clemson has hit a new gear. They’ve won each of their last three games in shutout fashion, including victories over ranked opponents, defeating then No. 6 Notre Dame (now No. 18) and then No. 17 West Virginia (now unranked), and Appalachian State. This is a Clemson team with great aspirations, as they’re looking for a fifth consecutive appearance in the ACC Tournament as well as a ninth straight NCAA Tournament appearance. This year, expectations are high for the Tigers, as they have returned a lot of players from a team that went to the ACC semifinals last season, and sit ranked at No. 14, the highest ranking they have reached since sitting at No. 9 in the first regular season poll of 2021, after which they dropped to 15 and then out of the rankings entirely. Head coach Eddie Radwanski looks to have put together another team that could be of top 10 quality, and one that now appears to have eyes on hardware rather than a tournament appearance and deep run.
On Sunday, Wake will host their second of three straight home games, this time facing off with the Virginia Tech Hokies. The Hokies are in an interesting place this year, having started the season 6-2-1, but having gone 0-2-1 against power conference foes, losing to No. 8 South Carolina and Pittsburgh, as well as settling for a draw against Indiana, who sit at 2-0-6. It is still a great start for the Hokies, especially considering that they lost talismanic center forward Emily Gray to the professional ranks this year after she posted a 32 point season with 12 goals and 8 assists. They’ve still shown a penchant for scoring goals this season, scoring 24 in only 9 games, only being shut out in one. Led by freshmen Taylor Price and Natalie Mitchell, as well as returning star Tori Powell, the Hokie attack hasn’t skipped a beat. They’ve lacked some balance, though, allowing 12 goals this season, including 4 to Pittsburgh, 3 to William & Mary, and 2 to Northern Colorado. Hokie head coach Chugger Adair enters this game with a 144-70-20 record at VT, having made the tournament 8 times since his appointment after the 2010 season, so he knows the importance of getting those critical road conference wins. Last year, VT came up just short of one in Winston, losing 4-3 in a thriller that included a ghost goal, a Tori Powell hat trick, and braces for Shayla Smart and Sofia Rossi to take Wake over the top. That was an important game that helped get Wake firmly into the Tournament discussion, but this year it feels like both teams could be looking for a win to enter these discussions. With both teams 0-1 in conference right now, a game like this is absolutely critical to pick up.
Tonight’s game against Clemson will kick off at Spry at 8:00, while the game on Sunday against VT will kick off at 5:00.