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Freshman forward Katie Martin locks up her second consecutive Big East Rookie of the Week. (Megan Albrittain/The VIllanovan)

by Jacob Pickle

While it is has long been a well-established sport in the rest of the world, soccer still struggles to gain traction here in the States, thanks to its perceived lack of scoring and excitement.

The Villanova women’s soccer team did their part to change such notions this past weekend, battling their way through two highly entertaining shootouts that saw the Wildcats fall to James Madison 3-2 on Friday night before rallying past the University of Richmond 3-0 on Sunday afternoon.

Villanova started off the weekend with a tough loss in a back and forth struggle against the Dukes Friday evening in Harrisonburg, Va.  The Wildcats, led by goals from freshman forward Katie Martin and sophomore forward Reanna Marino, were able to tie the game late before junior forward Katie Hyland put away the game-winner for James Madison.

The Wildcats found themselves on their heels for most of the opening half, initially struggling with an opposing offense that was able to work the ball around efficiently and open up a handful of seams in the Villanova defense.

The Dukes were eventually able to draw first blood in the seventh minute, as senior defender Becky Sparks found freshman forward Ashley Herndon in space. Herndon was able to settle the ball well enough and slotted a low driving shot to the bottom left corner of the net for the 1-0 lead.

Villanova regained their footing quickly and even strung together a few chances of their own, but unfortunately the Wildcats could not escape the first half before more damage was done.

With the final seconds before halftime ticking away, sophomore defender Rachel Ivey was able to put away a looping cross from Hyland that gave the Dukes a 2-0 lead going into intermission.  At the break, James Madison held the advantage in shots at 11-3 and all but dominated possession.

The Wildcats found their form coming out in the second half, however, and were able to consistently test sophomore keeper Ellen Forrest from there on out.  Sophomore forward Christina Camassa led the initial push, finding enough space for two solid attempts on goal in the opening minutes.  Villanova’s improved play finally showed fruition when Martin put away a corner dropped in off the foot of junior midfielder Caitlin Forte to cut the lead to 2-1.

After a distribution of chances for both teams, the Wildcats were able to knot things up 20 minutes later when Marino was able to deftly put home a cross sent in from Martin.

The Dukes took momentum right back, however, and were able to convert the eventual game-winner when Hyland settled a cross from senior forward Lauren Wilson and lifted it into the top right corner of the goal for the 3-2 lead in the 77th minute.  The finish from Hyland turned out to be the decisive score as the Wildcats were unable to conjure up any other opportunities in the closing minutes.

Following a day off, Villanova was right back to work at home on Sunday afternoon when they took on the Richmond Spiders at the West Campus Soccer Complex.  Building off their second half success from the James Madison game, the Wildcats came out in full force with three first half goals to bury Richmond 3-0.

Youthful production on offense was again a theme of the day, with two goals from freshman midfielder Caroline Brown and two assists coming from Martin.  Head Coach John Byford praised the impact of his younger players and his team’s ability as a whole to adapt to some early season injuries.

“We’ve got some new players and people playing new positions,” Coach Byford stated. “Every year it takes a few games to mold a new team into being comfortable to their places on the field, and I think we showed that we can put a lot of players into different positions this season and especially today.”

The Wildcats wasted no time in showing their versatility as a unit, posting the game’s first goal only three minutes into the contest.  After winning possession just inside Villanova’s half, junior midfielder Victoria Gersh floated a ball down the right side of the pitch that eventually reached the feet of Marino a few yards outside of the eighteen.

With a player on her back, she took one eloquent touch to the outside and was around her defender in a few short strides.  Streaking towards the baseline, Marino then cut back towards the inside of the field between two help defenders and crisply sent a left-footed shot to the bottom right corner of the goal to give Villanova the 1-0 lead.

Only 10 minutes later the Wildcats struck again, this time from a perfectly placed corner off the boot of Forte.  The ball curled in through a tangle of players, finding Brown who was able to drill a header right underneath the crossbar to extend the advantage to 2-0.

While many teams would opt to sit back and play conservatively with a 2-0 lead, the Wildcats simply continued to push harder.  Three minutes after their second goal, Martin chased a ball and tactfully sent it through to the right flank, eventually winning another corner.

Once again, a well-lofted ball from Forte hit Martin, whose initial shot was blocked by Richmond defenders.  Brown, finding herself in the right place at the right time, calmly settled the ball among a mess of players in the eighteen and drilled a shot to the back of the net for a 3-0 lead.

The score would hold through the remainder of the contest, although the Wildcats continued to dominate nearly every aspect of the match.  Villanova outshot the Spiders by a margin of 13-8 while controlling possession and the pace of play throughout.  Senior goalie Jami Kranich contributed a solid outing as well, making three saves while posting the shutout.

The Wildcats have a few well-earned days off until they return to action on Thursday, Sept. 12 when they welcome La Salle to the West Campus Soccer Complex for a 4 p.m. matchup.

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