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October 23, 2013

Women’s college soccer: Gators top Hiram 3-0 for sixth straight shutout

MEADVILLE — It’s rather humorous watching the Allegheny College women’s soccer team tiptoe around what is a massive elephant in the room.

Mention it to freshman Jessie Thiessen and she just smiles, no comment.

Bring it up to head coach Mike Webber and he’ll simply nod his head and acknowledge it carefully — “Yeah, yeah.”

Try to engage senior defender Leanne Balster in the topic, and she’ll politely change direction, as she has with numerous possessions by opposing offenses this season (although, not as politely).

The topic is, of course, the Lady Gators’ streak of shutouts, which was extended to six consecutive games following their 3-0 victory over North Coast Athletic Conference opponent Hiram on Wednesday at the Robertson Athletic Complex.

It’s going to be brought up here because, well, it’s pretty darn impressive. The Gators haven’t given up a goal since Sept. 25 during a 1-1 tie with Pitt-Bradford. Since then, Allegheny has gone 607 minutes of game time without letting the other team in their net.

As awesome as that sounds, the Gators would prefer to talk about something else.

“Better safe than sorry,” said Balster.   

So, here’s another topic: Yesterday’s win has Allegheny on top of the NCAC standings. The Gators are 9-4-2 overall and now 5-0-0 in the conference.

Up next for Allegheny is a key league battle against DePauw, which is currently second in the NCAC at 4-1-0.

“We had a real heartbreaker against them last year,” said Balster, recalling last year’s regular season finale, in which DePauw scored twice late to beat AC 2-1 in overtime. “We definitely do not want a repeat of that. And it’s an even bigger game because it’s senior day.”

Thiessen also spoke on the DePauw game, saying, “We’re really excited. We’re just going to take it one game at a time and keep doing what we’re doing.”

As for what it is they are doing, she didn’t elaborate.

Clearly, though, it includes a terrific defensive effort. Yesterday’s match with Hiram was no exception.

Through 90 minutes, the Terriers (7-6-2, 1-4-1 NCAC) recorded seven shots to Allegheny’s 32. Of those shots, Hiram put just three on goal, each stopped by junior keeper Gabby Curtis. And all three shots-on-goal came during a scoreless first half that was a little more back-and-forth than the Gators would have liked.

“First half, honestly, it was probably our worst performance over the last five,” said Webber. “Sometimes it’s difficult, mid-week games at home, they’re coming out of class and it’s tough for them to leave it all behind and say, ‘Come on, let’s play.’

“And Hiram played well, took us out of what we wanted to do. We usually want to posses the ball. And they got us into a game where we were kicking balls back and forth instead of hanging on to the ball. ...We just had to change a few things up.”

With those changes installed over the halftime break, the Gators came out and dominated in the second half.

A mere 4:46 into the period, sophomore Niki Augustine broke the scoreless tie when she intercepted a clearing attempt by the Hiram defense and let off a shot from the top of the penalty box that got past Terriers goalkeeper Kailie Reed.

The match remained 1-0 for the next 20 minutes, even though the ball rarely ventured out of Hiram’s end. Finally, Thiessen got the insurance marker with 19:27 left to play, getting a pass from Hannah Zangara, dribbling craftily around a defender and punching it home.

“We knew that we were better than how we’d been playing (in the first half),” said Thiessen. “We just thought in the second half we needed to play our game and not play down. We have high expectations for ourselves, so we wanted to play on that level.”

Thiessen is coming off a big week last week, during which she notched two goals and three assists in two games, earning the title of the NCAC’s Player of the Week in the process.

Her score last night gives her six goals for the season, tops for the Lady Gators.

“She’s going to be a special player,” Webber said about the freshman. “She can just turn people and get the goal.”

About five minutes after Thiessen’s goal, Allegheny made it 3-0. Alison Buzzard let loose a turn-around shot that rolled left-to-right through the defense and into the side of Hiram’s net.

“Obviously we didn’t play well in the first half. But for them to turn it around in the last 45, that’s a good sign,” he added. “They’re very coachable in that sense. They listened to what we had to say and made the adjustments and they played at a level we expected them to play at, and that they expected themselves to play. And that’s good to see going into Saturday. Hopefully it carries over and we can get off to a good start.”

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