WEST HARTFORD, Conn. — The University of Saint Joseph (USJ) women's soccer team dropped a heartbreaking Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) matchup with Emmanuel College (EC), 2-1, Wednesday afternoon on the USJ Soccer Field.
The production came at just the right time for senior midfielder Abba McKenelley (Middleton, Mass.), who scored her first two goals of 2019 to give the Saints the win and improve their record to 8-8-0 and 7-3-0 in the GNAC. The Blue Jays meanwhile are 0-3-1 in their last four games, dipping to 10-4-1 overall and 5-4-1 in the GNAC with two regular-season games to go.
Sophomore goalie Lindsey Montminy (Vernon, Conn.) had 10 saves in a losing effort, falling to 9-4-1, while senior goalie Lexi Gawron (South Hadley, Mass.) picked up the win with three saves and a goal allowed (5-7-0). The Saints controlled the pace and possession for most of the game, holding an advantage in total shots, 18-8, including an 11-2 edge in the second half.
The Blue Jays had a good opportunity early on in the ninth minute, as senior captain Olivia Norton (Berlin, Conn.) sent a shot from straightaway towards the right side of the cage, but Gawron made a nice save, deflecting it outside the post. Sophomore midfielder Ariana Gazaferi (Southington, Conn.) had a free kick from just outside the box in the 14th minute after a foul on the run, but it went straight to Gawron, keeping the Blue Jays off the board.
Seconds later, freshman forward Maxine Muscatello (Berlin, Conn.) added a shot on the run after a great pass from sophomore midfielder Sierra Romie (Newington, Conn.) from the other side of the field, but the shot was deflected, leading to another corner kick, which the Blue Jays were unable to capitalize on.
The Saints scored first in the 18th minute on an unassisted shot from McKenelley, who used her speed to slide past Blue Jay defenders on the left side, before a quick hesitation and hard kicked ball that made it past the hands of Montminy. 1-0 EC.
USJ got one back in the 27th minute on a great cross from Gazaferi to Muscatello, who was wide open in the middle. Muscatello showed her fundamentals, kicking the ball with the heel of her foot (she had no time to let the ball bounce), slicing it past Gawron. 1-1 midway through the first half.
After an even first half, both teams had an opportunity to take the lead minutes into the second, but both goalies stood their ground, snatching kicks sent their way to keep the score tied. The battle quickly became a physical one, with a few fouls on both sides, as each team understood the value of breaking the tie. The Saints had a few solid chances from senior midfielder Natalie Dash (East Hampton, Conn.), but both shots (62nd and 63rd minute) were deflected out by Montminy and sent wide.
The Saints controlled the tempo and most of the time of possession in the final 30 minutes. Shot after shot off some stellar passing ultimately came up short, as Montminy put together one of her best outings in goal of the season (10 saves), diving and hustling for every loose ball. Finally, after outshooting the Blue Jays 11-2 in the second half, the Saints broke through in the 86th minute, as McKenelley scored again off a setup from Dash. The ball was not kicked hard, but it was placed well, as Montminy went one way, and the ball went the other. 2-1 Emmanuel with minutes to play.
The Saints prevented any late heroics from USJ until the final 30 seconds, as the Blue Jays had one last chance to put it in. A free kick from sophomore midfielder Ali O'Neill (Litchfield, Conn.) just inside the midfield line with 23 seconds left dropped in for Gazaferi, who had a good look just to the right of the net, but the shot went wide. The Saints ran out the rest of the clock for a huge late-season GNAC win.
Just two games left for the USJ women's soccer team, who concludes the regular season with a two game road-trip, first at Simmons University on Saturday, October 26 at 12:00 p.m.
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