Nov 3, 2009

Lady Flames win regular season title

by Jeff Scott

The Liberty women’s soccer team started off a three-game week last Monday with a tough contest at home against VMI.

The Keydets put early pressure on the Liberty defense, and two shots by Amanda Berrios and Chrissy Beach had to be corralled by goalkeeper Ashley Nyholt in the game’s opening action. Liberty got its offense going four minutes later, as midfielder Madison Short’s shot was blocked by a defender. Midfielder Rachel Michener hopped on the rebound and blasted a shot at the VMI goal, only to have Angela Redmond knock each attempt away with diving saves.

VMI played aggressively, and did not give up on a single play. That persistence was rewarded in the 21st minute, when midfielder Alexi Staton followed her own blocked shot with an attempt that was deflected by Nyholt. However, the ball trickled out near the left post where Sarah Strand kicked it in to give VMI the 1-0 lead. It was the first goal Liberty allowed in seven matches.

The Lady Flames scored the equalizer in the 32nd minute. Striker Maria Owen took a pass from Michener, dribbled past a few defenders and blazed a shot in the right side of the goal for her fifth goal of the season. Neither team scored after that, and the game at intermission remained tied at 1-1.

The start of the second half only saw one shot, as play was relegated to the midfield. However, in the 61st minute, Keydet midfielder Kacey Hall controlled a loose ball between the Lady Flames defense 30 yards from the goal and rocketed a shot high into the net to give VMI the 2-1 advantage.

The Lady Flames came close, but were not able to answer in the final minutes. Each team took 10 shots throughout the game, and VMI held the advantage in corner kicks, 6-2. Nyholt had five saves in her first start of the season. The loss ended the Lady Flames’ eight-game winning streak, the longest in team history.

In the second game of the week, Liberty picked up a big road win at UNC-Asheville on Friday, 1-0, and gave the Lady Flames sole possession of first place in the Big South Conference.

The Bulldogs notched the first shot in the fourth minute, when a ball from Leilani Halkiotis sailed high over the goal off of a corner kick. Liberty got a great scoring opportunity in the 10th minute.

Owens found herself alone against goalkeeper Megan Dent, and squeezed a shot into the left corner of the net for the score. Jordan Woody took the next Liberty shot but it rose over the crossbar and out of play. The Bulldogs tried again a minute later, but Nyholt corralled the shot by Mary Kate Tucker.

The Bulldogs could not capitalize on three chances late in the second half. Liberty’s Elia Lake was noted for her strong defensive play in the final minutes, helping to secure the 1-0 victory. UNC-Asheville outshot the Flames 13-5, and had six corner kicks to Liberty’s two. Nyholt nabbed seven saves.

In their final game of the season the Lady Flames battled to a 0-0 tie with Presbyterian, and in the process wrapped up the Big South regular season title for the first time since 2003.

The Blue Hose controlled the ball for the first five minutes of play. Owen gained control and took a shot at the 6:03 mark, but it flew left. Presbyterian’s Kate Baker charged down the field for a shot attempt but it was gobbled up by Nyholt in the 17th minute. Heather Bentley set up Silvia Betancourt with a long pass but Betancourt’s ensuing shot missed over the crossbar.

Presbyterian had a chance to pull ahead on a penalty kick after a handball call was made in the 18-yard box. Rachel Lamb tried her best to beat Nyholt, but the junior was able to knock it away, preserving the 0-0 tie. After a corner kick, Ariana Espinoza’s rebound shot was blocked and another shot by Bentley went wide. The game went into halftime scoreless.

Both teams garnered opportunities but great goalie play prevailed to keep the score at zero. The Blue Hose’s best chance to score came in the 80th minute with a shot from Britney Horton, but Nyholt punched it over the crossbar to make the amazing save. The game went into overtime.

In the first overtime, Betancourt had a chance to score in the 104th minute, but her shot banged off the post, while Owen followed with a wide shot attempt. Each team fought for scoring opportunities, but the game ended 0-0 after two overtimes.
Liberty outshot Presbyterian 24-14, and the Blue Hose had five corner kicks to Liberty’s three. Nyholt made five saves for the Lady Flames.

The Big South regular season champions will begin Big South Tournament play Thursday, Nov. 5 in Charleston, S.C., as the No. 1 seed against No. 8 seeded Winthrop.

Contact Jeff Scott at jdscott@liberty.edu.
 


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