Winners of three in a row and seven of their previous eight, women’s soccer seemed to be peaking at just the right time as they headed into the final stretch of conference play. However, the top of the Northwest Conference is crowded as teams continue to jockey for optimal position in the NWC Tournament.
Every game the Loggers play until the end of the season is of the utmost importance. This was the team’s mindset as they began a weekend of games that could make or break their position in the conference. They began their weekend by hosting Willamette on Saturday, Oct. 20. Playing at home against a struggling Bearcats team, this was a game the Loggers had to have and they did not disappoint.
Almost from the beginning, the Loggers pushed the pace and attacked the Bearcat defense, racking up nine shots in the first half alone.
In the 18th minute, one of those shots finally went in, as freshman Haley Rosenberg (Lake Oswego, Ore.) served the ball across the field, a beautiful pass that allowed sophomore Robin Viera (Seattle, Wash.) to finish by heading the ball into the back of the net.
Blessed with a 1-0 lead, the Loggers could rely on a defense that had allowed only one goal in its previous eight games, a staggering run that they were able to keep going on Saturday.
The Loggers smothered Willamette’s attack, allowing only four shots by Willamette all game. Indeed, Willamette’s best opportunity may have come five minutes into the game, when their forward slipped past the defense and fired a shot at the net that was covered up by junior goalie Kara Merfield (Bellingham, Wash.).
This turned out to be the Bearcats’ only shot on goal of the day, as the Loggers prevented any more promising opportunities the rest of the way toward their 1-0 victory.
Their triumph pushed the Loggers to an 8-1-1 record, which placed them in a three-way tie for the conference lead with Linfield and Pacific Lutheran. So, of course, that made their Sunday, Oct. 21 showdown at Linfield that much more important.
Linfield, for their part, lost their only conference game in a tense 1-0 loss to the Loggers on Sept. 22, so they entered the matchup looking for revenge.
The Loggers started off well, as they benefited from a bit of luck to take an early lead. In the 23rd minute, junior Kylie Beeson (Everett, Wash.) took a shot that ricocheted off the crossbar, but bounced right to Rosenberg, who responded to her bit of good fortune by burying the ball in the back of the net.
Again clinging to a 1-0 lead, the Loggers turned to their vaunted defense to carry them the rest of the way. They came painfully close, shutting out a Linfield team that entered the game averaging more than two goals per game for the first 76 minutes of regulation. But in the 77th, Linfield midfielder Julia Vaughan banked a shot off the post to push it past Merfield for the equalizer.
Disheartened but not out just yet, the Loggers still had a chance to win the game, or at least take a tie into overtime, but it was not meant to be. Just three minutes later, Linfield scored again as they converted on a chance rebound off of the left post, taking a 2-1 lead that they would not relinquish.
This was only the third time all season that the Loggers had given up more than a single goal in a single game. Despite the lapse, their defense has shown that it is ready for a postseason run if the offense can step up.
Despite the setback, all is not lost for the Loggers going forward. They find themselves in third place after the loss, a game behind both Linfield and PLU for the top spot in the conference.
However, the Loggers still have five games to go, and plenty of time to regain the conference lead if either of the teams ahead of them has a misstep. Of course, it does mean that their margin of error becomes even smaller as they continue their march to the conference tournament.
The Loggers’ schedule heats up as they face off against rival PLU and George Fox on the road as they attempt to solidify their role as an elite team in the Northwest Conference.
PHOTO COURTESY / FAITH MATTHEWS