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by Nick Fattori

Coming off a huge win over Georgetown University—who was previously undefeated in conference play—in the regular season finale, the women’s soccer team came into last Thursday’s playoff game confidently against the DePaul University Blue Demons in the first round of the Big East Championship.

Villanova entered the game as the No. 4 seed from the national division, and hosted the at-large qualifier, DePaul, for the right to face Georgetown again in the quarterfinals.

The teams’ regular season matchup ended in a scoreless draw, but, this being the playoffs, one of the two teams would have to score. For a while, though, it seemed as if no side would score, and that the game would be decided in penalty kicks.

Although ’Nova dominated possession throughout the first half of the game, it was unable to finish when close to the goal and were outshot by a 5-3 margin during the first 45 minutes of the contest. Neither of the teams had any good opportunities to score during the first half, leaving it anyone’s game in the second half.

The beginning of the second half was more evenly played on both sides, but, still, neither of the teams showed that they could take control of the game.

Villanova continued to struggle finishing close to the net, and DePaul struggled to get into the rhythm of the game after doing a poor job of maintaining possession in the first half.

In the 63rd minute, it looked like a goal had finally been scored. A shot from distance deflected off of senior forward Heidi Sabatura and into the back of the net. However, Sabatura was ruled offside and the goal was waived.

Six minutes later, DePaul got on the board. The ball was crossed into the Villanova box and was deflected several times within a jumble of players. It finally fell to the feet of freshman forward Elise Wyatt, who nudged the ball into the net past junior goalkeeper Jami Kranich. It was the first goal scored after 190 minutes of play between the two teams this season.

The Blue Demons kept up the pressure after the goal, and did not allow a chance for ’Nova to answer. In the 75th minute, the Wildcats’ defense fell apart, leading to a breakaway for DePaul and a second goal for Wyatt, as she slid the ball passed Kranich again.

Most teams would have given up, but the ’Cats refused to quit and kept up the attack, even though the deficit seemed insurmountable. They kept up the pressure on the DePaul defense and forced sophomore goalkeeper Megan Pryz to make big saves to preserve the two-goal lead.

With the entire team pushing forward trying to score, DePaul once again had a breakaway, and one of their players was taken down in the penalty area, earning DePaul a penalty kick.

Junior defender Kylie Nordness calmly converted for her first goal of the season, giving DePaul a 3-0 lead with only 10 minutes remaining in the game.

The ’Cats continued to fight, and never let up, but in the end it was not enough.  With the win, DePaul improved to (9-9-2, 3-6-1), but went on to lose to Georgetown, 1-0, in the Big East quarterfinals last Sunday.

“There is only one team who’s happy with the last game of the season, that’s the team who wins the national championship,” said Head Coach John Byford.  “It’s always disappointing, it’s heartbreaking to lose your last game of the season. Sometimes you’re the better team and lose, and sometimes you’re the underdog and win.”

With the loss, ’Nova finished the season with a 7-9-3 record overall, including a 5-4-1 conference mark. However, much can be taken away from this season. This was the first season ’Nova qualified for the Big East tournament since 2009. The ’Cats also only graduate four seniors from the team, with only one—Heidi Sabatura—being a major contributor.

“We have a lot of young players, who received good experience this season. I think this will bode well for us in the future,” Byford said. “We have a lot of players coming back, and they will know how bad it feels to lose and will use it to inspire them next season.”

Villanova will miss Sabatura, who is tied for first in Villanova history in assists with 27 and seventh all-time in points with 76.

The ’Cats are also loaded at the forward position with freshmen Reanna Marino, Renee Hart and Emily Damstrom set to take over in production for Sabatura next season. The future looks bright for this young, feisty team.

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