Top Story, Fall, Women's Soccer

Eagles Continue Conference Success Against North Carolina State

By the numbers, the game between No. 23 North Carolina State and No. 11 Boston College women’s soccer should’ve been a particularly close affair. Both teams featured players that have left their mark on the conference leaderboard in points in the Wolfpack’s Tziarra King and the Eagles Sam Coffey. Both were wrestling with a run of tough conference games but had been able to win their last match by three goals apiece, boasting offenses that had been able to score plenty throughout the season and were in good form.

On Sunday, though, BC was above and beyond the better team. The Eagles denied King the ball and flustered N.C. State’s defenders by constantly applying high pressure with their forward lines, then used their speed on the counterattack to stretch the field and take advantage of created space. After dominating play for much of the first half, Coffey and Olivia Vaughn scored three minutes apart in the final 10 minutes before the break, and their goals proved to hold up in a 2-0 shutout—the ninth clean sheet of the year for BC (13-1, 5-1 Atlantic Coast) and goaltender Alexis Bryant.

It was a glowing performance at home, the third ranked victory of the year and a win that further positions the Eagles as a potential challenger to conference-leading North Carolina. With just four games left in the regular season, BC currently owns sole possession of second place and will have a chance to secure it firmly—or even make a push for first—as matches with the Tar Heels and third-place Duke loom. The Eagles nearly escaped a compact schedule the past two weekends without suffering a loss and have easier matchups with Miami (2-4 in conference play) and Pittsburgh (0-5) to offset the tough back-to-back draw of UNC and the Blue Devils.

BC hasn’t finished higher then third in the conference since 2011, but the shutout of the visiting Wolfpack (9-4-2, 2-3-1) did wonders for people betting on its chances.

From the beginning, head coach Alison Foley’s side was pressing up and making life uncomfortable for N.C. State keeper Sydney Wootten. Three quality opportunities came in the first 10 minutes, all missing the mark but proving to be a sign of what was to come. One, where Gaby Carreiro dribbled the ball down the left sideline before sending a cross into the box, was notable for the number of times it’d appear later in the game. Carreiro had plenty of space down the side and used a step-over dribbling move to great success on Wolfpack back Kristina Schuster.

BC controlled play for much of the half, with few exceptions. N.C. State’s King, often man-marked and followed around the pitch by Elysa Virella, slipped free in the 22nd minute. The junior, who leads the conference in total shots, deftly beat Rachel Newborough with a combination of touch and speed, but her ensuing shot from beyond the 18-yard box was easily stifled by Bryant.

King’s shot proved to be an anomaly for the half. BC went right back to pressing up and taking full advantage of the fact that the Wolfpack back line really struggled to clear the ball past midfield, which was the result of both forwards pressing and Eagles defenders holding a high line. They nearly scored in the 24th minute, when Vaughn crossed in a ball from the right corner, Carreiro settled it, and fed Coffey for a shot that Wootten saved.

Just 10 minutes later, BC recorded the goal it had been so close to netting throughout the early portion of play. Jenna Bike delivered a perfect ball from distance to Coffey, who had split the midfield and defense with a run up the right sideline. Coffey settled the ball with an extended right foot, took a touch into the box, and loaded up for a hard, low shot to the left corner. It snuck past Wootten’s outstretched hands and banged off the left post and into the cage, a clinical finish for the sophomore’s ninth goal of the year.

Three minutes after, Vaughn topped Coffey’s technical ability with a goal entirely of her own accord. Gathering the ball at midfield, Vaughn took 11 dribbles before eventually scoring with her left foot in the box. The final two touches were nothing short of brilliant, as she was facing a one-on-two in the box. With N.C. State defender Ella Bonner directly in front of her, Vaughn took a touch to her right, then immediately played it across Bonner’s body to the left. Breaking toward it, the junior unleashed a hard left-footed shot that beat Wootten to her left.

Many expected halftime adjustments from the Wolfpack, who hadn’t been able to get the ball to their wings, much less put pressure on the BC defense—they were outshot, 8-1. It was the exact inverse of the Eagles’ strengths on the other side of the ball, as BC was threatening constantly with runs forward from Vaughn and Bike. Not much changed after the break, though, at least in the early going. N.C. State struggled to string together passes out of the back, which is where it often found itself after long runs from the Eagles. Meanwhile, BC’s offensive trap caught victims twice, and Mijke Rolefsema and Coffey both set up teammates for quality shots in transition.

The Eagles had a chance to put it away with 30 minutes left on the clock, when Carreiro took advantage of Schuster’s defense for what seemed like the 10th time of the day. A slick touch freed her to run in on goal in the box, and Schuster resorted to a slide from behind, giving BC a penalty kick. Wootten, however, read Kayla Jennings’ kick perfectly, diving to her left to make the save.

It seemed like a potential turning point for N.C. State, especially when second-half substitute Anna Toohey got a good look on net just a few minutes later—but she was whistled offside. King followed with her second shot of the game, using her speed to race past Virella and Kayla Duran alike, but it sailed high.

The play settled down until, with four minutes left on the clock, Bryant made a costly decision. King, sprinting in from the left side, closed in on goal. She took a touch to Bryant’s right, beating the keeper, who flailed backwards. Bryant’s arm hooked King’s foot and brought her to the ground, earning the fifth-year keeper a yellow card and the Wolfpack a potentially game-changing penalty kick. Bryant, to her credit, recovered and denied Ricarda Walkling’s effort by diving to her left.

Including the penalty save, it was an impressive shutout. King was one of many players in the conference—Coffey included—that can make or break a game. Foley’s scheme to contain King was executed almost perfectly, save two or three chances, and Bryant contained the mistakes. Movement among the starting 11 has all but disappeared for the Eagles, as they’ve developed into a group of players that have a chance to make serious noise in postseason play. One should expect that Coffey, with four goals in her last two games, will merit All-ACC honors this week, while the team as a whole should make a push up in the polls.

Featured Image by Kaitlin Meeks / Heights Editor

October 7, 2018