For an early-season game with a non-conference opponent, William and Mary’s meeting with Virginia Commonwealth Thursday night came loaded with pre-game storylines.
For starters, it was a rematch of the 2011 CAA Tournament final, when the Tribe edged the Rams 1-0 in overtime to take the conference crown and move on to the NCAA Tournament.
Second, the College entered looking for its seventh straight win while the Rams — now a member of the Atlantic-10 conference — came in on a four-game undefeated streak.
But to spend too much time on the pre-game buildup would take away from a hard-fought game that tested each team’s backline, toughness and resilience to the final whistle when the Tribe (6-3) came out on the losing side of a 2-1 decision.
“We played the poorest game we’ve played all season,” head coach John Daly said. “We dwelled on the ball, we played way too slowly.”
The College started scoring early. In the 7th minute, senior forward Cortlyn Brisol picked off a VCU pass in Rams territory and sent a beautiful through ball to sprinting freshman midfielder Nicole Baxter, who had gotten inside position on VCU’s defender. As Rams goalkeeper Kristin Garden came off her line, Baxter poked the ball to the left side of the goal, just out of Garden’s reach and into the net to put the Tribe up 1-0.
“I saw the ball go to Cortlyn so I took off running forward,” Baxter said. “She saw it and made the perfect pass and I just finished it to the corner.”
As the half wore on, though, the Rams (4-2-3) consistently knocked on the door of the Tribe’s goal, testing freshman goalkeeper Caroline Casey and looking poised to tie things up.
“I didn’t expect their front players to give us as much trouble as they did,” Daly said. “We were slow-thinking at the back.”
Finally, in the 33rd minute, they did. VCU forward Brianne Moore sent a lead pass from the left side to a streaking Courtney Conrad. Behind the defense, Conrad dribbled to just outside the 6-yard box and tapped it to the far-post. Caroline got her gloves on it but couldn’t corral the shot, letting it roll into the back of the net.
About five minutes later, the Tribe had chance to retake the lead. A throw-in from the right side of the pitch in VCU territory led to a bouncing ball inside the Rams’ 18-yard box. Baxter tried to take it down with her chest but was pushed to the ground, drawing a whistle from the referee, who awarded the College a penalty kick. Senior midfielder Mallory Schaffer’s shot went to the left side of the goal, but so did Garden, who made the save before the ball was cleared.
The half ended in a tie, with the Tribe having taken 10 shots (four on goal) to VCU’s five (three on goal).
Schaffer, the College’s most top scoring threat, got more involved on the attack to start the second. In the 50 th minute, the reigning CAA Player of the Week (and Year) found space at the top of the box and received a pass from freshman forward Barbara Platenberg. Schaffer turned and shot at the right side of the net, but Garden was again there to make the save.
The College came close again in the 63rd minute when a hard VCU tackle drew a yellow card and set the Tribe up for a free kick from the left side of the field, just outside the Rams’ 18-yard box. The free kick went in and bounced around before two consecutive Tribe shots were blocked by defenders and the ball was ultimately cleared.
“Their defense was strong in the air,” Baxter said. “And they were pretty fast so they were tracking a lot of the through balls that we wanted, so they were strong back there.”
Ultimately, it was VCU who got on the board first in the final half. In the 80th minute, the Rams drew a corner from the left side. Cristin Granados sent it in for VCU’s Bex Kunz, whose shot was blocked. But the College couldn’t clear the line and Conrad gained possession, shooting it past Casey for her second goal of the night and the decisive score.
When all was said and done, the second was a half controlled by VCU, who took 11 shots in the final 45 minutes while the Tribe mustered eight.
“In the second half we completely lost composure,” Daly said. “We were chasing the game. They sat back and hit us on counter attacks but when we had the kind of situations to cash in, we didn’t have the composure.”
For VCU, the result was a small ounce of revenge for what happened on the same field last season.
“That was something we addressed. If you’re looking for motivation, you know that they’ve got motivation,” Daly said. “We finished their season last year … and I said we can’t let that be a factor, make sure that we’re ready to match that, and we weren’t.”