Survive and advance
By Nate Haywood
Lady Flames keep their title hopes alive as they win in first playoff game
The Liberty Lady Flames soccer team (13-4-1, 8-1-1 Big South) kept its Big South title hopes alive as they defeated the No. 8 seed Radford Highlanders (7-10-2, 4-5-1 Big South) 2-0 in the Big South Conference Tournament quarterfinals.
Each team began with limited offense, as neither Liberty nor Radford had any definite scoring chances. The Lady Flames did not register an attack until five minutes into the match when freshman forward Jennifer Knoebel bolted down the sideline into Radford territory. While this did not end in a scoring opportunity, it ignited the Lady Flames offense.
The Lady Flames did not score during this offensive surge, but they were given ample opportunities to break the 0-0 tie. Senior forward Alanna Dunkle found herself with the ball directly in front of the goalie twice. But Radford’s defense prevented her from getting a clean shot off each time. Liberty also came inches away from scoring when junior midfielder Brittany Aanderud struck the ball from just outside the box and it hit the crossbar.
Despite the miss, the Lady Flames kept up their heavy attack and were soon rewarded for it. After a series of pinpoint passes in front of the Radford defense, Aanderud was given another opportunity to score. This time, she chipped the ball into the top right corner of the net, giving Liberty the 1-0 lead eight minutes before halftime.
Not only did the Lady Flames outscore the Highlanders in the first half, they outshot Radford as well, ultimately dominating the first half, which Head Coach Jessica Hain said was necessary for Liberty to advance.
“We talked today about winning the first half,” Hain said. “… I think the girls did a great job with that.”
The second half began and Radford came on the field, realizing that its season was on the line. Within the first 10 minutes of the half, the Highlanders registered three promising shot attempts that either sailed over the crossbar or were saved by redshirt sophomore Holly Van Noord. Aanderud said her team got off to a slow start in the second. But a counterattack by Dunkle turned the tide.
After Dunkle’s attack, senior midfielder Rebeccah Smith snuck the ball past Radford goalie Katie McCormick, but it bounced off the sidebar and ended up out of play.
This was not the last scoring chance for the Lady Flames, however. With 22 minutes left in the game, junior midfielder Madison Kauzlarich scored her fifth goal of the season. Kauzlarich’s goal dashed any hopes for a Highlander comeback. When the clock hit zero, the game was over, and so was Radford’s season.
Hain acknowledged her team for its stout defense.
“(I’m) really proud of them,” Hain said. “When there’s such strong wind, and they’re playing a good team, it’s hard to get a shutout. I think all over the field, they did a good job.”
Aanderud also expressed praise for the defense getting the shutout.
“Our defense is awesome,” Aanderud said. “One of our goals was to win every ball and not let them breathe and that’s exactly what we did. We had to want it more and we did.”
The Lady Flames continue their run at a title Nov. 7 against the No. 4 Campbell Camels in Greensboro, North Carolina, in the Big South Conference semifinals.
HAYWOOD is the asst. sports editor.