The University of Idaho Vandals soccer squad pushed aside five years of history tonight with a dominating win over rival Eastern Washington University.
“This was a very satisfying win,” coach Peter Showler said. “We battled, we closed things down, we had players in tight. Everyone worked hard for each other.”
The Vandals (5-3) had lost five straight to the EWU Eagles before this evening’s match, including a heartbreaking 1-0 loss last year in a game where everything but luck was in the Vandals’ favor. In that game, the Vandals dominated the Eagles in every category only to watch shot after shot ring off the Eagles goalpost.
The Vandals struck early in tonight’s game, with Erica Hart blasting a shot past Eagles goalkeeper Lisa Dimak 3:28 into the game.
“Playing forward was a different experience for me,” said Hart, who started off as a defensemen early in the season before advancing to midfield and finally forward. “It was a little nerve-racking, but it was fun working with Chelsea Small.”
Small, who was coming off a two-goal performance against Pine Bluff, deftly tapped a pass to Hart, who drove it hard to the left side and beat Dimak for her first goal of the season.
The Vandal defense flexed their muscles early in tonight’s game, denying the Eagles any opportunity to set up. The defense limited the Eagles to only 3 shots in the first half.
The Vandals poured on the shots, earning 12 in the first half, but failed to convert again until defender Sari Morrison capitalized on a penalty kick in the 42nd minute to give the Vandals a 2-0 lead. The goal was Morrison’s fifth of the year, and she leads the team in goals scored. Despite the statistics, Morrison is very humble about her offensive game.
“The forwards have been doing all the work, and I just pick up their scraps for them at the end,” Morrison said. “They are doing all the work, they just let me take the shots.”
Just minutes later, EWU finally got on the board in what would be their only goal of the game. In a rare defensive lapse, EWU forward Brittany Sparks broke free from herdefender on the left side and fired a shot which trickled by Vandals goalkeeper Liz Boyden.
The Vandals were not discouraged and instead of buckling down, went for the go-ahead goal. With a strong transitional game, the Vandals once again began to cut apart the Eagles defensive line with passes and break-outs. The effort paid dividends in the 51st minute when Jill Flockhart juked her defender into the ground and slipped a perfect pass to Hart, who drove it into the back of the net for her second goal of the game.
“(Hart) works hard and she gives it everything she’s got,” Showler said. “Hard work paid off her for today.”
The defensive real-estate did not come cheap for the Vandals, who suffered several injuries throughout the game from a very physical Eagles team. The Eagles came out and established a physical presence, tallying up 17 fouls throughout the game.
The Vandals got their first scare when Christine Leathem chased and attempted to block off an advancing Eagles forward. In the process of stealing the ball, both players went tumbling head over heels, with Leathem landing awkwardly on her neck and back.
Play was immediately stopped as the Vandals medical trainers ran over and tended to Leathem. Writhing in pain, Leathem remained on the field for several minutes before being helped off by the medical staff, to the cheering of the crowd.
Later in the second half, Desirae Hull was knocked down behind the play by an Eagles forward. With Hull on the ground, play was again halted as the medical trainers came out. After a minute of lying on the ground, Hull was helped off with what looked like a possible head or neck injury.
The rush of injuries seemed to infuriate the Vandal offense, which renewed its relentless attack. With the defense jumping in on the rushing plays, Morrison got into position with the ball in the corner, beating out her defender and deftly maneuvering the ball around her and firing a shot. Morrison’s rebound found Chelsea Small, who drove it home to put the Vandals up 4-1 in the 71st minute.
Showler was glad to get the win and said that none of the injuries looked serious. He said he was extremely happy with the way the team responded to the physical play.
“(EWU) was playing a different style of play than what we played against, but we dealt with it,” Showler said. “It wasn’t the prettiest game, but when we score 4 goals against a team like that, I’m always happy. The girls worked hard for the win.”