FARMINGTON, Conn. - The University of Saint Joseph (USJ) women's soccer team blanked the Manhattanville College (MC) Valiants, 2-0, in its season opener on Friday afternoon on Kiki's Field at Miss Porter's School. Freshman Olivia Belcourt (Cromwell, Conn.) netted the game-winner in the 68th minute off a feed from sophomore Ali O'Neill (Litchfield, Conn.) to lift the Blue Jays to victory. USJ returns to the pitch next with its first road match of the 2019 campaign Sunday at Nichols College at 12:00 p.m.
The Blue Jays and Valiants played to a scoreless first half, however the Valiants seemed to be clicking on all cylinders over the opening 45 minutes, controlling the majority of the possession and creating multiple scoring chances. The first good scoring opportunity came in the 8th minute by sophomore Dani Fanning (Mission, Texas) who received a through ball inside the penalty area from sophomore Amaya Gonzalez (Buena Park, Calif.). Fanning found herself one-on-one with USJ's sophomore goalkeeper Lindsey Montminy (Vernon, Conn.), and she tried to curl one around the keeper, but Montminy was able to get a hand on it, deflect the shot, and pounce on it to deny the visitors an early goal.
The Valiants continued to apply pressure to the Blue Jays in the early stages of the match and continued to test Montminy with shots. Over the opening 23 minutes of play, Manhattanville had mustered six shots, including four on goal, but Montminy was there each time to make the stop.
USJ's sophomore Victoria Piechota (New Britain, Conn.) had the lone scoring chance for the Blue Jays in the first half, firing a shot on net in the 38th minute, but it was handled easily by the Valiants sophomore netminder Alexa Pyatsky (Garden City, N.Y.) and USJ and Manhattanville entered the break deadlocked at 0-0 with the Valiants holding an 8-2 edge in total shots.
The second stanza was a different story though and the Blue Jays came out of the intermission much more organized, dominating the final 45 minutes on the pitch. In just the first 12 minutes of the second half, USJ fired five shots at Pyatsky, including three on frame, as the momentum quickly began to switch in favor of the Blue Jays. Freshman forward Maxine Muscatello (Berlin, Conn.) served as a spark for Saint Joseph accounting for two of the five early second-half shots.
The Blue Jays would finally break through in the 68th minute with the strike from Belcourt to take a 1-0 advantage. O'Neill played a ball up to Belcourt, found her feet, and Belcourt wheeled and fired on goal to beat Pyatsky for what would serve as the game-winning goal in her first collegiate game.
Trailing, Manhattanville picked up the tempo and tested Montminy a couple times over the next nine minutes, but she stood tall once again making a pair of saves to keep the Valiants off the scoreboard. Then, in the 78th minute, the Blue Jays tacked on a huge insurance to give themselves some breathing room.
Belcourt was involved once again, playing a through ball to sophomore Paola Jimenez (East Hartford, Conn.), who touched it out wide to junior Alyssa Fecko (Stafford, Conn.). Fecko collected and drilled a shot with her left foot past Pyatsky to give the Blue Jays a 2-0 cushion.
USJ's defense stayed tight for the remaining time in regulation, denying the Valiants any real scoring chances, and the Blue Jays walked off with the season-opening victory, 2-0. It marks the sixth straight year USJ has opened the season with a positive result versus Manhattanville with the Blue Jays now owning a 5-0-1 record against the Valiants over that span.
Montminy (1-0-0) picked up the shutout victory between the pipes for USJ and finished with seven saves. Pyatsky (0-1-0) was dealt the loss for the visitors and made six stops. Manhattanville held a slight edge in total shots, 14-11, but USJ had more shots on goal, 8-7. The Valiants also held an edge in corner kicks, 4-1.
USJ hits the road for the first time in the 2019 campaign at Nichols College on Sunday. Kick-off is slated for 12:00 p.m. for the Blue Jays and Bison.