Women’s soccer took to the pitch Thursday night to open up Atlantic-10 conference play.
Women’s Soccer Drops A-10 Opener 1-0 to No. 24 Saint Louis University
Loyola women’s soccer took to the pitch at Loyola Soccer Park Thursday night to open up Atlantic-10 conference play against the No. 24 Saint Louis University Billikens, ultimately dropping the contest 1-0.
The Ramblers — who entered the match sitting at 4-4 coming off a 1-0 victory over Red Line Rival DePaul — had an opportunity to get the conference schedule off to a good start with an upset against SLU who have won five straight A-10 championships.
Fresh off a 3-2 victory at the University of Nebraska, SLU walked onto Hoyne Field Thursday night with a record 5-2-1. The Billikens were propelled to their sixth victory of the season on the back of a goal scored in the 85th minute by fourth-year defender Lyndsey Heckel.
After the game, head coach Barry Bimbi said he was proud of the team’s effort and is continuing to remind them they have a chance against any team they go up against.
“We told them no game is too big for us,” Bimbi said. “We expect you to compete and play hard and have the quality that we have in the group and show every night, and I thought for 85 minutes we were great. But you know, at the end of the day, they score off a corner kick and they go home with the three points. So it’s disappointing in the end, but there were a lot of great things to take from the game.”
Out of the gates, both teams traded possessions and both the Ramblers and Billikens had early opportunities to open scoring. Fourth-year Rambler midfielder Madeleine Barone managed to get the game’s first shot on goal off in the 11th minute, but it was cradled by SLU goalkeeper Emily Puricelli.
Saint Louis regained possession and maintained control for a good portion of the half following Loyola’s early opportunities. In the 14th minute, Rambler goalkeeper Naya Lipkens made two saves in quick succession, batting away balls with her fist to keep the match knotted at nil-nil.
This was just the beginning of what became Lipkens’ best performance of the season so far. She would go on to tally five saves in the first half and seven overall. She kept the Ramblers in the game despite a hard-pressing Billiken offensive charge.
Bimbi said the coaching staff had been working with Lipkens to adjust her play style ahead of the game which accounted for her performance Thursday night.
“We were working with her and playing her a little higher up the field and getting her connected to her backline a little bit, which put her in stronger positions for reading the plays,” Bimbi said. “She built confidence early in the game, and she was really decisive on a couple through balls.”
Aiding Lipkens was fourth-year midfielder Olivia Rhodes who made stifling defensive stops all night. Fourth-year defender Alaina Abel, who has anchored Loyola’s backline all year, turned in another great performance managing multiple successful slide tackles. Abel and Rhodes kept SLU’s explosive forwards at bay for most of the night.
With around 20 minutes to play in the half, first-year midfielder Maggie Schmidt gave Loyola their first close shot attempt when she hit the crossbar on a free kick. First-year forward Zoe Hevey continued to build on her breakout first-year season when she broke past three SLU defenders in the 39th minute and found second-year midfielder Dylan Levy in front of the goal on a cross. Levy kicked the ball well over the net as the Ramblers failed to capitalize on another scoring opportunity.
SLU maintained ball control for the last 10 minutes of the half but couldn’t get one past Lipkens who played very aggressively, often putting herself on the line by coming way forward and meeting Billiken strikers where they were. Late in the half she stopped two shot attempts on slides.
Coming out of the second half break, the Ramblers maintained ball control early, but their momentum was cut short on a series of fouls. In the 51st minute of play, SLU found the back of the net on a header, but the goal was called back due to an offsides call giving the Ramblers a huge break.
Loyola was more successful offensively in the second half as they managed four shots on goal in the half compared to just one in the first but couldn’t convert and find the back of the net. A free kick with just over 30 minutes to play by fifth-year midfielder Amanda Cassidy was on target but went right to Puricelli.
Hevey continued to create chances with her speed but couldn’t get a clear shot. A Loyola foul in the 85th minute of play set-up the Billikens for a potential scoring opportunity in the waning minutes of the game. Heckel scored the game winning goal for SLU with five minutes left on a corner kick, as she headed the ball just past Lipkens’ reach.
Loyola pushed downfield a few more times in the final minutes but couldn’t manage to tie the game again. Hevey was able to get a shot on goal off with just over a minute to play but the shot was kicked right to Puricelli, putting an end to the Ramblers’ hopes of equalizing the score.
With the loss, Loyola falls to 4-5 on the season and 0-1 in conference play. In his post-game remarks Bimbi said going toe-to-toe against the team predicted to win the A-10 in the preseason will hopefully build confidence within the team.
“You know, the great thing about losing to SLU is not many teams are going to take points off SLU,” he said. “We had an opportunity to take points off them, but there are plenty of points out there to be earned throughout the season, so we’ll refocus.”
Next, Loyola will travel to Pittsburgh where they will take on Duquesne University Sunday, Sept. 17. Kick-off is scheduled for 12 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on ESPN+.
Featured image by Aidan Cahill | The Phoenix