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by Frank Scicchitano

Last week the women’s soccer team opened their Big East schedule with a pair of conference matchups against two tough squads.

No. 25 Butler and unranked Marquette both paid a visit to the West Campus Soccer Complex as the Wildcats looked to start Big East play off on the right foot.

The Wildcats had a tough test to open conference play as they faced-off against No. 25 Butler on Thursday afternoon.

Behind solid play in goal and an aggressive attack from its offense, ’Nova was able to pull off the 2-0 upset over the Bulldogs.

Both sides seemed pretty evenly matched through the first 20 minutes until Villanova opened up its best opportunity for an early score.

Senior defender Taylor Houck booted a ball off the crossbar of the Butler goal and missed a goal by just inches.

The Wildcats didn’t have to wait much longer until sophomore forward Christina Camassa put her team on the board with a goal assisted by junior midfielder Caitlin Forte and sophomore defenseman Renee Hart.

Villanova outshot Butler 6-4 in the first half and took the 1-0 advantage into halftime. The solid play continued as the ’Cats came out firing to start the second half.

In the 52nd minute, junior forward Victoria Gersh made a deep run into the Butler box and her freshman teammate Katie Martin sent her a beautiful pass that turned into Villanova’s second goal in the afternoon’s contest.

Senior goalie Jami Kranich took it from there. The 2-0 lead was more than enough cushion for the veteran in the net as she recorded two saves to hold off Butler late in the game.

Kranich finished the game with a total of three saves on the way to her third shutout of the season.

Her counterparts in goal were Butler’s Julie Burton and Mackenzie Hopkins who each allowed one goal to the Wildcats and combined for three saves.

Butler had a few opportunities to get on the board late in the second period including a corner kick in the 86th minute, but they were unable to make anything of it.

They outshot the Wildcats 7-5 in the half to bring the total shot tally to an 11-11 tie.

The victory was Villanova’s first over a ranked opponent since they knocked off 11th-ranked Georgetown in October of 2012.

The loss was only the second of the year for the Butler Bulldogs and the victory gave the Wildcats momentum heading into their Sunday contest with Marquette.

The 2003 Villanova women’s soccer team was honored during halftime on Sunday afternoon at the game to celebrate the tenth anniversary of their Big East Championship and Sweet 16 appearance in the NCAA Tournament.

Despite another outstanding performance in goal from Villanova’s Kranich, Marquette was able to notch a goal in the 13th minute and hold off the Wildcats for the remainder of the game to score the victory, winning with a score of 1-0.

Kranich recorded nine saves on the afternoon, which tied the senior’s career high.

Junior forward Mady Vicker scored the early goal for the Golden Eagles from 20 yards out which proved to be the difference maker in the end of the Big East battle.

From then on the ’Nova defense locked down Marquette with help from defenders Houck, junior Kathryn Rayner, freshman Callie Duliba and sophomore Rhea Barghash.

They were able to neutralize a Marquette offensive unit that outshot the Wildcats 7-2 in the first half.

After a few halftime adjustments, Villanova came out and created a few opportunities to perhaps get itself back in the game.

Forward Reanna Marino and midfielder Hayley Wilson, a pair of sophomores, were able to get looks at the Golden Eagle goal.

However, their shots could not find the back of the net thanks to stellar play from Marquette sophomore goalkeeper Amanda Engel.

The Wildcats kept Engel on her toes for the entire second half as they were able to get off ten shots on goal.

The Marquette defense had her back in the 84th minute when they were able to stop a shot from inside the box by Villanova’s Gersh.

Less than a minute later, Villanova had the best of their many opportunities when Emily Damstrom was awarded with a penalty kick and a chance to tie the game in the final minutes of the contest.

Unfortunately, her shot was blocked by Engel who made a fantastic save to put an end to the Wildcats chances for victory.

The referees had a busy afternoon as the two sides combined for 20 total fouls and five yellow cards.  While no one was booked with a red card, this was certainly one of the most physical games the Wildcats have participated in this season.

Marquette improved their overall record to 9-3-0 and the victory has them off to a 2-0 start in Big East play.

As for the Wildcats, they split their first two Big East games and find themselves at an overall record of 4-5-2 with a 1-1 mark in the conference.

Villanova will take to the road this weekend as they look to improve in the conference standings.

They will travel to Xavier on Thursday, and then to DePaul on Sunday.  The games are set to begin at 6:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. CT, respectively.

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