MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia women’s goalkeeper Sara Keane experienced a relatively quiet time between the posts last weekend when two opponents from the Bluegrass State traveled to Morgantown to face the 10th-ranked Mountaineers.
Keane made just one save in 180 minutes of play, yet the senior from Mount Laurel, N.J., was left perplexed Sunday after Kentucky sealed a 4-2 victory at Dick Dlesk Stadium.
“Our defense has been playing well,” Keane told The Soccer Observer. “This obviously wasn’t a very good day for us.”
Friday’s 4-0 win over Eastern Kentucky had earned Keane her third home shutout of the season and improved WVU’s record to 4-1-2 overall. Senior Kara Blosser’s early departure with what appeared to be a ruptured knee added to head coach Nikki Izzo-Brown’s lengthy list of injuries, and Kentucky ruthlessly punished four defensive failures Sunday to round out an unpleasant weekend for West Virginia.
“Unfortunately you’ve got to battle injuries in athletics and we’re battling a lot of them,” Brown told The Soccer Observer. “We’re banged up.”
Freshman midfielder Bryce Banuelos has already been ruled out for the season after tearing her anterior cruciate ligament, and Canadian senior Caroline Szwed has yet to see playing time after missing the entire 2012 campaign.
There had been no warning of Sunday’s blowout during the season’s opening three weeks. WVU had tied Penn State and Duke on the road and fallen to their only loss at reigning NCAA champions North Carolina. Friday’s comfortable win over the cagey Colonels had allowed Brown’s team to work on different facets of play that had been addressed on the practice field, such as pushing full-backs Jess Crowder and Leah Emaus forward and recovering their defensive shape after losing possession.
Kate Schwindel, Amanda Hill, Ashley Lawrence and Tessa Broadwater found the net against an Eastern Kentucky team that offered scant attacking threat.
Crowder’s heavy touch straight from Sunday’s kick-off set the tone for a surprisingly sluggish WVU performance. Wildcats forward Arin Gilliland seized on the loose ball to wallop a 25-yard shot into Keane’s top-left corner with 10 seconds on the clock.
Frances Silva responded for the hosts with a delightful touch to control a high, looping cross with her right instep before scuttling a left-foot shot narrowly beyond the far post. Schwindel and Cari Price missed the target with headers as WVU battled for the equalizer. Instead, they fell further behind midway through the first half.
Gilliland seized on an errant pass by Emaus and quickly slid the ball between center-backs Kadeisha Buchanan and Carly Black into Stuart Pope’s path. Pope evaded Buchanan’s desperate lunge before coolly clipping her shot over Keane.
Two defensive blunders had led to two Kentucky goals, and the visitors’ crisper passing and sharper movement reflected their confidence. WVU’s problems were not confined to the back line. Kelsie Maloney struggled to get away from the towering, athletic Kelli Hubly down the left side. Schwindel limped and winced through the afternoon, ending it with strapping around her right thigh and knee.
“I’ve definitely been struggling,” confessed Schwindel, who injured her ankle seven minutes into WVU’s opening exhibition game against Rutgers on August 13. “I’m just trying to get back to 100 percent, which I haven’t felt like I’ve been at yet.”
Substitute Kailey Utley provided a spark for West Virginia on 35 minutes by skipping around Hubly before pulling the ball back to Schwindel. The junior’s shot was charged down, but she found the net five minutes later with a low drive from 18 yards.
Silva’s nimble feet separated her from defender Cara Ledman on 42 minutes, but she fired high and wide from outside the box.
WVU’s hopes of a comeback were derailed five minutes after the interval when Zoe Swift arrowed another long-range shot into Keane’s top corner. There seemed little danger when the freshman received the ball 30 yards out with her back to goal. An unfortunate slip from young Canadian national team defender Buchanan prompted Swift’s speedy pirouette and strike.
Black completed the Mountaineers’ quartet of defensive miscues on 65 minutes by tripping Swift in the penalty area. Gilliland notched her second goal of the afternoon by sweeping her kick low to Keane’s right.
A second penalty with 16 seconds remaining allowed Silva to reduce the deficit with her fifth goal of the season.
“At moments when we needed to be dynamic, we weren’t,” said Brown, who celebrated her 250th win as a head coach last month. “This is definitely something I’ve never done with all these injuries, but it’s part of it.
“We’ve got to regroup and take care of business.”
West Virginia faces Richmond and Wright State at Dick Dlesk Stadium this weekend before starting the defense of their Big 12 regular-season title at Oklahoma State on Sept. 27.
Aug. 13, 2013 — WVU Women Impress In Season Opener Against Rutgers
Aug. 13, 2013 — SLIDESHOW: West Virginia Women 3 Rutgers 0