In a season which had gotten off to a roaring start, the Knights women’s soccer team had slowed a bit. As of this past Saturday, they were coming off of two ties, earning them a total of 2 points in the MIAC standings. One was an impressive road showing at #20 St. Thomas, but the other was a rather dismal home showing against Saint Mary’s, a team which has only one conference win thus far and has dropped six matches. They lie ahead of only Concordia and Hamline, two teams which the Knights defeated. Long story short, a win on the road at Gustavus Adolphus College this past Saturday would be extremely important. It would earn them three points in a crowded MIAC field, where the last playoff spot is only two points behind the Knight’s current position. “It was a must-win game for us. More confidence for us is really important going into our last few games,” sophomore holding midfielder Annette Shumway remarked. “We needed three points in the standings to keep us in the running for a spot at the top of the conference.”
They did escape Gustavus with a win, by the skin of their teeth. It was one of the more physical games the Knights have had to play in this season, with Gustavus racking up nine fouls. Though the match ended in dramatic fashion, it was the defense that was the story for most of the match. Gustavus didn’t get off a shot on goal the entire match; in fact, the Gusties didn’t muster a shot at all. While the Knights got off 15 shots and put 10 on target, one of them a game winner in overtime, their opponent was forced to try and compete in a game where they couldn’t get the ball near the net. “We dominated possession in the attacking, middle, and back thirds of the field. That by itself contributed to the 0 shots stat,” said junior center back Kaela Mali. “I think the biggest thing that our defense has going for us is a familiarity in playing with each other. This is the third season the personnel of our back line has remained largely unchanged so we are very comfortable playing with each other. We know each other’s strengths and tendencies as well as those of our goalies, who are integral parts of our team’s defense, and that allows us to function efficiently as a unit.”
For as well as their defense played, the offensive storyline was similar to that of their past few contests. There were a couple of very close misses, including a near winner with less than 10 minutes to play courtesy of senior Emma Wasend, but for the fourth consecutive game the Knights headed into overtime. This time, they collectively decided they wouldn’t be denied another win. Following a shot off a corner kick in the 94th minute, a Gustie defender was called for a handball inside the box.
Freshman Cate Patterson, who is second on the team in scoring and tied for first in shots on goal, confidently strolled up to take the penalty kick. “All I was really thinking about as I walked up was how much work we’d put into the game already and how much it felt like we deserved the win. We had a lot of opportunities pass us by and they hadn’t had any, so we were really hoping to end the game there and get the win. I’ve shot a high-pressure penalty kick before and missed, so I wanted this one bad,” Patterson said. “It wasn’t really a feel-good shot, I’d say it was just kind of a shot we needed. We had so many missed opportunities so to finally get a clear cut opportunity, it was just something we had to get done.” It did go through, and due to the golden goal format for overtime in the MIAC, the Knights immediately swarmed Patterson and left Gustavus with a win and three points.
As important as that win was, an even larger match looms in the immediate future. Tonight at 7:00 p.m., the Knights visit the MIAC leading Augsburg Auggies. They’ve only lost one game in MIAC play this season against the Bethel Royals, the same squad who handed the Knights their only MIAC loss. However, Augsburg claimed a victory over St. Thomas and are 10-3-1 overall. This road game will undoubtedly be one of the biggest, if not the biggest, challenges they face this season.
Sophomore starting forward Lily Hurtubise isn’t downplaying it, but feels confident. “The challenge with Augsburg is knowing they’re in first place, it’s a mental thing. We know that we need to high-press them, defending in tightly and being more fit than them. It’s going to be a fast, physical game,” she explained. “We are really confident that our offense can handle whatever defensive pressure they bring. All the games we have scored early, we’ve done really well. I think it’s important to score early to take some pressure off our defense and be able to play loose and confident.”
There’s no doubt that an early goal would be key in heading towards a victory. In their 4-0 victory against St. Catherine, they scored two goals within eight minutes and never relinquished the lead. They were able to play with less pressure on their defense and with more offensive freedom. This led to the two extra goals late in the match. Goals have been difficult to come by in MIAC play for the Knights this season. The Gustavus match presented them with former All-American keeper Ashley Becker, the MIAC leader in goals saved with 14 more than the next closest keeper. They have played a couple difficult MIAC teams in the first half of the season which hasn’t made things easy. Unfortunately, the MIAC isn’t a weak conference by any means. Starting tonight, their road only gets tougher.
Looking past their Augsburg matchup tonight, two MIAC contests remain against more-than-worthy opponents. First, the annual renewal of the St. Olaf rivalry will take place at Bell Field on October 30th. The last game of the regular season will be on the road at Saint Benedict on November 2. The MIAC quarterfinals commence on Tuesday, November 5. If the Knights can manage to squeak out wins in at least two of their final three games, and receive help from other teams, they have a real chance of receiving a first round bye and heading directly into the semifinal round on Wednesday, November 6.
Their current situation is so fragile that they could finish anywhere from first place to missing the playoffs. This is the nature of MIAC athletics. Every team is competitive and anyone can win any game on any given day. The Knight’s women’s soccer team knows this, and will certainly give it their all on Friday, October 25, against the MIAC frontrunners. The only thing Carleton fans can know for certain is that their win against Gustavus Adolphus last Saturday was hugely important. With a bit of luck, they can continue to succeed and string together enough wins to secure a playoff spot.