The lion’s share of chances fell to the Tufts women’s club soccer team on Saturday against St. Anselm at Bello Field. Heroics by the visiting goalkeeper and wasteful finishing by the Jumbos, however, kept the score even at 0-0. This continues the team’s unbeaten conference record for the season, now 4-0-2, in a season that has seen them take out perennial division-topper Northeastern University, who sits in front of the Jumbos in the standings at 5-1-0. Despite recording no losses this season, the structure of the conference is such that, in their current third place position, the Jumbos will not continue on to compete at the regional championships.
Tufts quickly established control of the game; just three minutes in, senior forward Sydney Griffith forced the St. Anselm keeper down to make a good save. Additional pressure from Tufts in the opening minutes resulted in a shot hitting the side netting and a header that skimmed wide right past the post. Even off the ball, the Jumbos pressed their opponents hard to win the ball back. It was not until the 10th minute that St. Anselm actually held possession outside of their own half, and even then it wasn’t long before Tufts’ back four, anchored by sophomore center-back Cassandra Collins, won the ball back and recycled possession to the midfield.
“Our defense was really strong Saturday,” senior co-captain striker Madison Hafitz said. “They’ve been strong for us all season, and it was extremely important that they kept winning the ball and [limiting] the quickness of their attack. They put balls into midfield all game long, and helped us turn defense to attack quickly.”
The early control led to some high positioning by the midfield — dangerous against a fast team like St. Anselm. After being drawn forward, Tufts was out of position and vulnerable on a break, during which St. Anselm outnumbered the defense five players to three. Savvy defending by Collins saw the danger end in just a throw-in, but St. Anselm began putting more pressure on Tufts, securing possession in its own half and earning a corner and multiple throw-ins in aggressive positions.
Tufts controlled the half, however, earning five corner kicks and putting in four shots on target, as compared to St. Anselm’s one and one. The best chance of the half came on the very last kick, a high-arching corner kick that was met on the volley to draw the first of many great saves from the St. Anselm goalkeeper.
The second half saw the striker pairing for the Jumbos caught offside several times. St. Anselm’s high defensive line was effective in squeezing the play, but clever touches by Tufts junior midfielder Lucy Fell led to many good chances.
“I thought we did a good job getting the ball wide to our mids and putting crosses in, but our spacing on crosses had to be better,” Fell said. “A lot of times we would cross and there would only be one person in the box. The pressure was on our mids to cover a lot of ground because of how big of a field Bello is. I think on another day we would have converted many of the chances that we created. We played the way we always strive to — controlling possession and getting the ball out wide to our playmakers. It is important to stay consistent in the way we play and not try to out-physical our opponents when a lot of the time we’re more technically skilled.”
St. Anselm tried many long balls over the top, and it was off one of these that the best chance of the game was created. A ball over the top of the Jumbos’ left-back led to a cross that flashed across the goalmouth, hit by Hawks striker directly into the waiting arms of the keeper. A touch to the left or right would have been a sure goal, and the relief in the stands was palpable. These long balls were, for the most part, thwarted at the source, with excellent pressure in the midfield and good stepping up by the defense.
The Jumbos’ goalkeeper wasn’t the only one in fine form, however. A St. Anselm turnover in the 60th minute led to a quick break for Hafitz, who unleashed a curling shot toward the upper right of the goal, only to have it saved at full stretch by the keeper. The rebound was sent over the goal. Just minutes later, a fierce volley was struck off of a corner kick, but the keeper’s low dive kept the scoreboard clean for the Jumbos.
Play opened up after a long injury timeout, with players on both sides starting to get physical, ultimately frustrated by the lack of goals on the day. Just two minutes before the end of the game, Collins intercepted a pass and sent Hafitz through on goal, but her right-footed shot was saved again by the keeper. Just a minute later, Hafitz, played through by Griffith, was thwarted again. This time her shot went straight at the well-positioned St. Anselm keeper. Ultimately, the pressure was for naught, and the game ended a fiercely contested 0-0.
Rolling substitutions sometimes caused the pace of the game to be staggered, a byproduct of the team being a club sport with no coaches. This puts Tufts at a disadvantage compared to their competition; many schools, such as Northeastern University, Boston College and other top teams all have coaches.
“Sometimes it’s hard, but the more the season goes on, the more we get used to how we play,” Fell said.
The Jumbos play their next game on Saturday, Oct. 24 at MIT.