Mitchell Westall, staff writer
Following a tough loss Thursday to LaSalle, Mason’s women’s soccer team fell below .500 for the first time since losing to East Carolina in the season opener.
In order to clinch a playoff spot, the women’s team needed to beat LaSalle, and the University of Massachusetts (UMass) needed to lose its match against Saint Joseph’s on Thursday evening. Though Mason lost to LaSalle in a final score of 3-0, Saint Joseph did Mason a favor by beating UMass. Mason is currently ranked 8 in the Atlantic 10 standings. LaSalle is ranked 6.
Coming into Thursday’s game, LaSalle and Mason seemed evenly matched. Though Mason had faced a tough loss against George Washington Oct. 25 after surrendering a goal in the final two minutes of double overtime, LaSalle had come away that same day with just a 1-1 tie against Saint Louis. Additionally, LaSalle had only a 3-6-1 record in its away games.
The game was a matchup of goalies, pairing Mason’s workhorse goalie Kirsten Glad, a redshirted junior, against LaSalle’s keeper, redshirted sophomore Larisa Zambelli. Glad has started all 17 games this season. For Zambelli, however, Thursday’s game was only her fifth match as a starter this season.
The game began with fairly sloppy defensive tactics, which led to plenty of offensive opportunities for both teams. However, it was the LaSalle Explorers who exploited a Mason turnover in minute twenty. Junior forward Marykate Bateman stole the ball from Mason’s defense and converted on a wide open chance in a three-on-one situation. This goal was her fifth of the season and her tenth point.
Just a few minutes later, junior forward Sarah Hardison had an opportunity in a two-on-one situation to tie up the game, but the shot missed the net. This was one of very few opportunities Hardison saw in Thursday’s game.
A minute later, another case of sloppy defense on Mason’s end led to a penalty kick for LaSalle. Senior forward Jessika Kagan took the shot, giving the Explorers a 2-0 lead over Mason.
“They were under so much pressure in the first half that we actually tried to push the ball up field a little bit faster so they wouldn’t be under as much pressure,” said Head Coach Todd Bramble after the game, “That group has been outstanding for us this year, all year long.
The second half was a different story for the Mason’s defense especially due to the stout play of sophomore Kelsey Young and the much-improved play of fellow sophomore Abbey Downey. Downey saw a particularly rough first half of play, turning the ball over in tough situations, but her play in the second half was definitely much improved.
In the second half, LaSalle fought to protect its lead. In minute six, Zambelli made an incredible save to keep it a 3-0 game.
Mason was shut out for the sixth time this season, and it was Zambelli’s second shut out of the year for LaSalle.
While the loss was a disappointment for Mason, Bramble says the team is more focused on performance than scores.
“We’ve been a team that’s done a pretty good job of not focusing on [the] results as much, but trying to concentrate on our performance and feeling like that we’ve got a good enough group where if we perform well, we’ll have a chance to win games and let the chips fall where they may and the rest will take care of itself,” Bramble said.
Indeed, Coach Bramble appeared to be focusing on the longterm success of his players when he subbed his strongest forward, Sarah Hardison, only 15 minutes into the second half, likely to conserve Hardison’s energy for Sunday’s matchup against Fordham. Hardison did not return to the game after being subbed.
In addition, though Mason’s defense let in three goals, Bramble spoke highly of them after the game: “They’re [going to] leave here feeling bad about how things went tonight, but I’m not down on that group at all.”
The team has improved significantly this season in comparison to recent years, and this is likely a result of Bramble’s coaching. This is Bramble’s first year as the team’s head coach, but it is clear that he has already grown to admire the team and wants to make it stronger.
On Sunday, Nov. 1 Mason took on Fordham in New York. After two overtime periods, the score remained tied 1-1. After this game the women earned themselves a spot in the Atlantic 10 tournament. This is the first time in four years the women have found themselves in the playoffs.