Women's Soccer continues scoring barrage
No. 5 Virginia improves to 4-0 with dominant weekend wins against No. 9 Penn State, Richmond
The No. 5 Virginia women’s soccer team added two more dominating performances to its resume this weekend, handily defeating ninth-ranked Penn State, 5-1, and Richmond, 3-0, to extend its season-opening unbeaten streak to four games. The Cavaliers outshot their opponents a combined 55 to 12 and allowed just one goal over the weekend.
Virginia illustrated its impressive depth throughout the two games, using six different players to score its eight goals with three more Cavaliers adding an assist. Sophomore forward Makenzy Doniak was the only Cavalier to both score and assist in the match against the Nittany Lions and added her second tally of the weekend against Richmond.
Perhaps most impressively, Virginia’s offensive prowess has not been the product of a run-and-gun approach, which would leave the final third vulnerable defensively. Rather, the Cavaliers have been brutally efficient with their passing, rarely committing a turnover and largely monopolizing time of possession.
That style has allowed the Cavaliers’ defensive performance to rival that of its potent offense, evidenced by the team’s dominant 43-shot advantage during the weekend. Virginia opponents this year have had no room to breathe with the ball, as swarming Cavalier defenders have been able to rely on precise spacing and clean tackles behind them to eliminate any threats.
“We work a lot on our back four,” senior forward-defender Molly Menchel said. “The thing that we are doing this year is having a higher line so that opponents have less space to play in. That, combined with staying tight with each other and talking on the field, has been helping us out a lot.”
That approach was on display against Penn State (2-1-1) Friday, when the Cavaliers fired 27 shots on a Nittany Lion team that has been touted as a legitimate national title contender in many preseason polls. Virginia forced Nittany Lion sophomore goalkeeper Britt Eckerstrom to make eight saves, including a flurry of three in-tight stops in the final 10 minutes that kept the scoreline from turning too ugly.
“This was another good result for us,” coach Steve Swanson said. “It is still early in the season and we’re evolving as a team.”
The teams appeared relatively evenly matched in the early going, as the Nittany Lions struck first to pull ahead. Penn State All-American senior forward Maya Hayes tapped in a cross from close range to put Virginia behind for the first time in the young season. But Virginia’s junior All-American midfielder Morgan Brian was not to be outdone, responding seven minutes later with a strike of her own from just inside the area.
“We went down early but didn’t let it affect us negatively,” Swanson said. “They got together and solved the problem on the field.”
After Brian put Virginia on the board, the floodgates opened. The Cavaliers went on to score two more goals — one from Doniak in the 19th minute and another from senior midfielder Kate Norbo in the 22nd — in the next eight minutes to take a 3-1 advantage going into halftime.
Penn State was unable to iron out their defensive woes during the break and Virginia picked up right where it left off in the second half. Cavalier senior defender Shasta Fisher pushed the lead to three when she and senior forward Gloria Douglas orchestrated a clever give-and-go inside the area just over a minute after play resumed.
Sophomore forward Brittany Ratcliffe continued her phenomenal play and capped the scoring in the 78th minute after beating a charging Eckerstrom to a through-ball from junior forward Kaili Torres and sneaking the ball inside the far post. This goal marked Ratcliffe’s team-leading fourth goal of the season and extended her scoring streak to three games.
“We are doing some things really well,” Swanson said. “We might be playing at a high level, especially at this point in the season, but we still aren’t where we want to be.”
Virginia continued to move closer to Swanson’s high standards Sunday, when the Cavaliers blanked Richmond 3-0 at Klöckner Stadium. Virginia got off to a slow start, looking a bit sluggish after thrashing Penn State just two days earlier. It was not until more than halfway through the first period that Menchel was able to get the Cavaliers on the board.
“We knew that they were going to sit back on us,” Menchel said. “To get goals, we were going to have to play it fast and wide. Once we did that we were able to find a couple of goals, but it just took us a while to get the ball moving at the pace we needed it to.”
Menchel and the rest of the Cavaliers did not wait long after first scoring against the Spiders to do it again. The senior forward struck just two minutes later to give the Cavaliers a commanding lead heading into halftime.
In the second half, Doniak continued her early season tear by adding a third goal in the 56th minute, when she beat the Spider defense to a fantastic through-ball from freshman midfielder Alexis Shaffer and maneuvered around the keeper to put the final nail in the Spiders’ coffin.
Virginia will look to continue its early season dominance next weekend at the Virginia Nike Soccer Classic, when Rutgers and Seton Hall come to Charlottesville. Kickoff against Rutgers is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday evening. Virginia will then clash with the Pirates at 2:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon.