By Frank Foreman
For the better part of Wednesday afternoon’s North Coast Athletic Conference championship playoff semifinal between DePauw and Allegheny, it appeared as if the Lady Gators were playing with an extra player on the field.
That’s not to say that Allegheny was sneaking players on the pitch when DePauw wasn’t looking. The Gators were simply that dominating.
A pair of first half goals from Jessie Thiessen were more than enough for top-seeded Allegheny as the Gators disposed of the fourth-seeded Tigers 2-0 at the Robertson Athletic Complex, advancing to the conference championship game Saturday in the process.
The Gators play the No. 2 seed Wittenberg at 11 a.m. Saturday. Allegheny and Witt played to a 1-1 tie in their only meeting this season back on Nov. 2.
The win was big for Allegheny (10-5-1) for multiple reasons. Naturally the victory keeps the season alive, and puts the Gators one win away from an automatic NCAA Division III national playoff berth. It was also a bit of redemption against a DePauw (10-9) squad that squashed a six-game winning streak on Oct. 26.
Allegheny wanted this one.
“We definitely have a history with this team, and we wanted to come out an redeem ourselves,” Thiessen said. “We believed we could have won the last game with (DePauw), and wanted to prove that, and I think we did today.”
Swift ball movement and countless chances on the offensive end allowed the majority of Wednesday’s match to be played in the Tigers’ end of the field. The first 10 minutes of the contest were relatively even, but once the Gators settled in, it was clear that DePauw was in a lot of trouble.
“I was really pleased today,” Allegheny head coach Michael Webber said. “We had a lot of opportunities in our loss to them last time. This time, we came out, possessed the ball and played controlled. We looked for the seams, and Jessie had an incredible game.”
Just over 15 minutes into the game, Thiessen scored her first goal of the game, following a sharp pass from Greta Hilbrands. Thiessen gained possession at the top of the box on the right side, made a quick move to the net and beat Tigers’ keeper Emma Cooper for a 1-0 lead.
The goal kept an already excited Gators team fired up, got a packed crowd on its feet, and gave Allegheny the all-important opening score.
“Today, it was huge, and we knew that,” Webber said of scoring the first goal. “It’s always important. We talked about how we had to be more aggressive early, and that created the opportunity.”
For Thiessen, the goal came at the perfect time, and on a move she has done countless times.
“We knew we had to come out quick. Our last game against them, it took us awhile to get going,” Thiessen said. “We had to be the first team to get one in. I just cut inside, took a shot wide post and it went in.”
Rather than sit back and play more defensive-minded soccer with the lead, the Gators continued to pressure DePauw, keeping the Tigers on their heels and moving in the wrong direction. Eight minutes after Thiessen’s goal, the freshman stuck a dagger in DePauw, finding a loose ball in the box and drilling it past the keeper inside the right post to make it a two-goal advantage.
The constant pressure led to the goal as the Tigers couldn’t maintain possession in their own end of the field.
“We have watched the improvement all year, and the team has bought in,” Webber said. “I think they like this style of soccer we’re playing, and you can see the improvement. We try to keep most of the players involved, which can be tough with 23 players. But we’re getting 18 and 19 players in, and that keeps them going.”
Allegheny picked up right where it left of in the second half, looking even more dominant despite DePauw trying to be more aggressive down two goals. As a team, the Gators’ defense was suffocating, allowing just three shots on goal the entire game. Allegheny took 22 shots, with 11 of those finding the net.
Gators’ keeper Gabby Curtis was rarely tested, stopping all three of DePauw’s shots. The shutout was the ninth of the season for Allegheny.
With a semifinal win behind them, the Gators now turn to Saturday as the entire team knows just what’s at stake.
“We’ve been saying all season that each game becomes more and more important,” Thiessen said. “We’re pretty excited to be moving on, and we’ll be ready.”