MORGANTOWN, W. Va. – West Virginia and Georgetown’s players had endured the biting cold for over two hours during Saturday’s NCAA women’s national championship first-round battle when Daphne Corboz trotted toward the penalty spot from her huddle of teammates stationed at the halfway line.
Corboz, the Big East Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year, had pestered WVU all afternoon with her fast feet, excellent control and creativity. None of those qualities had been able to break the deadlock in this engaging 0-0 tie, but now Georgetown’s progress lay squarely on Corboz’s shoulders with the score level at 3-3 in a shootout.
“I had no doubts,” said Hoyas head coach Dave Nolan after his senior midfielder swept her kick into the bottom-right corner to advance Georgetown into a second-round meeting with Virginia Tech on Friday.
Penalties, as Nolan admitted, are a horrible way to lose a game and a fantastic way to win. His team was on the good side of the equation this time to leave No. 7 ranked West Virginia reflecting on missed opportunities. The Big 12 Conference regular-season and championship winners approached the NCAA tournament with high hopes of a deep run only to be frozen out at the first hurdle.
“Both teams played pretty tight today,” Mountaineers head coach Nikki Izzo-Brown told The Soccer Observer after the game. “You could tell both teams wanted the game.
“You’ve got to finish those chances, and unfortunately we didn’t.”
Retired Danish coach Ebbe Skovdahl came out with a memorable quote likening statistics to miniskirts during his time in charge of Aberdeen F.C. in Scotland. They give you good ideas but hide the most important thing, Skovdahl posited. A cursory glance at Saturday’s stats might lead to the conclusion that WVU dominated this game by outshooting the Hoyas by 30-12. The reality was somewhat different.
Mountaineers forwards Michaela Abam, Amandine Pierre-Louis and Ashley Lawrence combined for 20 of West Virginia’s attempts. Four found the target. The rest were mainly speculative, long-range efforts as Georgetown largely snuffed out the hosts in the final third.
There was little hint of the attritional grind to follow when both sides struck the goal frame in the opening exchanges. Abam took down Kadeisha Buchanan’s long ball at the edge of Georgetown’s penalty box on five minutes before wheeling away from two defenders into a yard of space. Hoyas goalkeeper Emma Newins crept off her line expecting a deep cross. She was left helpless when Abam shot toward the near post. The ball seemed destined to find the vacant corner only to rebound off the upright. Newins’ defense bailed her out by blocking Kailey Utley’s follow-up.
Georgetown hit back two minutes later when Corboz collected a misplaced pass by WVU’s Jess Crowder before cracking a 25-yard shot off the crossbar.
Lawrence immediately launched a Mountaineers’ counter by sliding a delicate ball into the 18-yard box for fellow Canadian Pierre-Louis. The Montreal native pulled her shot wide of the near post.
Izzo-Brown has tinkered with WVU’s formation this year to allow Lawrence to get on the ball further up the field. She started the game sharply, dribbling past opponents to set up her fellow forwards in and around the penalty area. Lawrence’s task became increasingly difficult as the visitors swarmed around her in central areas.
West Virginia’s wing play also spluttered, particularly down the left side where Utley’s dogged persistence earned her a starting role this year. The junior from St. Louis came up against an opponent in Sarah Adams that brings tenacity to a different level. The Hoyas’ right-back snuffed out Utley’s trickery time and again and never lost the desire or energy to join Georgetown’s counter-attacking raids.
Raving about Buchanan’s performances has become clichéd, yet the 19-year-old Canadian national team defender was the outstanding player on the field. She kept WVU’s back line strong and focused, made some important last-man challenges inside her penalty box and often led the charge out of defense to create openings further up the field.
On one occasion, Buchanan anticipated a pass on the edge of her penalty box, intercepted the ball and took off on a 90-yard charge down the right touchline to win a corner kick for her team. Stirring stuff.
“I don’t think Seabiscuit could run with her when she gets going in full stride,” Nolan said of the impressive sophomore defender. “We tried to keep her at home as much as we could.”
Big 12 Newcomer of the Year Abam missed a couple of chances early in the second half. She could not turn Maggie Bedillion’s cross on target at full stretch and then missed the frame with a free header from Crowder’s free kick. Pierre-Louis came closer after stepping inside Jessica Clinton and fizzing a shot inches over the bar from 20 yards.
Georgetown kept causing problems too when the right moments arose. Adams and Rachel Corboz, Daphne’s younger sister, combined on the right before the latter sent in an inviting cross into the box. Taylor Pak headed high and wide of Hannah Steadman’s goal.
WVU’s Amanda Hill was remarkably overlooked in the Big 12 Conference’s recent honors list. The junior from Washington, Pennsylvania showed why she is one of conference’s outstanding midfielders with a stunning turn straight out of Gianfranco Zola’s playbook on 72 minutes. Hill spun away from her marker inside the penalty box, but did not quite execute her intended curling shot toward the far post in the way that the former Chelsea maestro once did in an F.A. Cup semi-final against Wimbledon.
The Hoyas created the game’s clearest opening six minutes from the end of regulation on one of those occasions when they had waited to exploit the space left by Buchanan’s forward forays. Daphne Corboz threaded the ball between WVU’s defense to send Vanessa Skrumbis clear on goal. Steadman remained upright for as long as possible before pouncing to nudge the ball away from the substitute’s feet.
Georgetown survived one final scare before overtime. Newins again strayed from her central position to anticipate a Pierre-Louis shot. The 5-foot-8-inch senior spilled the ball toward her line as she dived back to recover before clutching it at the second attempt.
Overtime passed by without many notable incidents and it was on to a seemingly inevitable penalty contest that Nolan described as “double secret bluff.” Both teams had scouted each other’s takers after the Mountaineers and Hoyas recently won their respective conference championship semi-finals on spot kicks.
Seniors Kate Schwindel and Ali Connelly steered their shots wide of Newins’ right post while WVU’s reserve goalkeeper Michelle Newhouse thwarted Kaitlin Bast. That left Daphne Corboz with the task of sending Georgetown through to the next round with her team’s fifth kick.
The game officially counts as a tie, ending West Virginia’s season with a 16-2-4 record and a program-best 19 games without defeat.
“This one moment shouldn’t define everything that this team has accomplished, so I definitely addressed that,” Izzo-Brown told The Soccer Observer.
“We’ve got to learn from it, but moving forward there’s a lot to celebrate.”
West Virginia (4-2-3-1): Steadman – Bedillion, Black, Buchanan, Crowder – Hill, Price – Utley, Lawrence, Pierre-Louis – Abam — Substitutes Used: Maloney, Portillo, Newhouse, Schwindel, Connelly
Georgetown (4-2-3-1): Newins – Clinton, Wenger, Topor, Adams – Pak, Morgan – Damaska, D. Corboz, R. Corboz – Ayotte — Substitutes Used: Skrumbis, Bast, Knott, Shaffer
Referee: Cory Richardson
Oct. 11, 2014 — Hill On Top Form As Mountaineers Scale Red Raiders Challenge
Nov. 16, 2013 — SLIDESHOW: West Virginia Women 0 Rutgers 0 (3-0 on pens)
Nov. 14, 2013 — Freshman Broadwater Steps Up To Lead West Virginia Attack
Sept. 26, 2013 — Canadian Szwed Still Key To WVU Women’s Title Hopes
Sept. 16, 2013 — Kentucky Loss Leaves West Virginia Women With The Blues