Women’s soccer ties No. 1 UCLA, tops No. 11 Penn State

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

As the women’s soccer team walked off the field after its game against UCLA on Sunday, its players shared high-fives, hugs and a sense of accomplishment after a banner weekend.

Brown pulled off a monumental feat by beating No. 11 Penn State 1-0 by way of an overtime goal, then trumped its win on Friday by playing the top team in the country, No. 1 UCLA, to a 0-0 stalemate. Friday and Sunday’s games at the UConn Classic in Storrs, CT marked the most exciting weekend for the team in recent memory.

In the biggest weekend of Head Coach Phil Pincince’s career, according to the seasoned coach, the Bears showed that they could match women’s soccer powerhouses such as the Nittany Lions and the Bruins. While Brown was out-shot badly in both games by tallies of 28-13 and 34-7, the entire team rose to the challenge of holding such elite competitions at bay. As a result, Brown emerged from the weekend with two stellar performances against marquee non-conference opponents.

“Afterwards everyone was so happy, we were thrilled,” said goalkeeper Brenna Hogue ’10. “We were so proud of each other because everyone played such great games.”

Hogue, who was named MVP of the tournament and Ivy League Player of the Week, was the key agent in both upsets. On Friday, she set a career-high 18 saves, preserving the scoreless tie until Sarah Hebert-Seropian ’12 knocked in the game-winner with 58 seconds left in the first overtime. Against UCLA, Hogue weathered the storm against the Bruins as she fended off attempt after attempt from an offense that had out-scored its opponents 16-1 this season.

“She had an amazing two days,” said Charlotte Rizzi ’11. “She helped us out a lot in the back by calling out everything. She didn’t freak out, and she was on everything”

Rizzi played a crucial role as well through her sparkling play as one of the team’s starting defenders. On Friday, pouring rain slowed down the Nittany Lions’ offense just enough for the Brown defense to hold down Penn State in the first half. At half-time, the team looked around at each other and, according to Rizzi, “was like hey, it’s 0-0, we can get this done.”

After another half of scoreless play, Brown entered the overtime exhausted from playing through driving rain and chasing down Penn State’s forwards. Finally, the Bears struck. Brown played the ball out of the middle of the field and to the flank. Forward Lindsay Cunningham ’09, the team’s most seasoned scorer, passed to Herbert-Seropian, who collected the ball and struck a shot from just outside the top corner of the 18-yard-box. Her blast beat the Penn State goalkeeper cleanly and ricocheted off the crossbar, and into the top corner of goal.

The Bears celebrated their victory by rushing onto the field to congratulate their teammates, but Brown had little time to savor the victory before it had to prepare for the title game against UCLA. The Bears once again faced no pressure going into the game, as the top team in the country was expected to steam-roll its Ivy League foe.

In fact, according to Rizzi, UCLA agreed to come to the tournament in part because of the inclusion of Brown, a supposed easy victory. As a California native, Hogue was “thrilled” to play her home-state team, commenting that “it doesn’t get much better than that”.

When the Bears stepped on the field, they immediately had their work cut out for them. Brown marked many of UCLA’s top players one-on-one, which helped the defense stay solid and keep its shape, according to Rizzi. And while Brown launched few shots during the game, it refused to pack the whole team into its half of the field. Instead, Bruno attacked when it saw fit, but remained wary of the speedy UCLA offense.

When the final whistle blew, signaling a scoreless tie after regulation and two over-times, the team knew its memory of the triumphant weekend would have lasting implications.

“It gives us a huge boost,” said Rizzi. “The pride we showed in each other gives us confidence for our season going forward.”

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