Jumbos force tie against No. 9 Brandeis

Senior forward Brooke Fortin prepares to kick the ball to keep it from a Middlebury defender in the homecoming game on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015. (Evan Sayles / The Tufts Daily)

Women’s soccer picked up two ties this week, snapping No. 9 Brandeis’ eight-game winning streak and remaining unbeaten so far this season. The 1-1 tie against Brandeis on Saturday followed a Wednesday 0-0 tie against Wesleyan. The Jumbos moved to 3-0-3 overall and 2-0-1 in NESCAC play.

Brandeis carried an eight-game winning streak into Saturday’s match, having scored 24 goals along the way. The Judges’ confidence showed as they started the game pressing with two, three or sometimes even four players, immediately closing down on the Tufts players. That early pressure paid off, as the Judges took the lead 11 minutes in off of senior defender Jessica Morana’s rebound goal. There was confusion in the Tufts defense when senior defender and co-captain Alexa Pius stayed down after a head-to-head collision. Morana capitalized and was able to bundle the ball home. The visitors continued to pile on the pressure, and though they outshot the Jumbos 12-2 in the first half, they could not find a second goal.

“We knew [Brandeis was] a good team and they were going to come out strong, but I felt like we managed that pretty well,” Pius said. “It did take us a little second to adjust to the speed they had on the wings, but with the exception of that one goal, we kept them under wraps for most of the game. I think [our defensive performance] was top-notch, what we did, especially when we had a lot of young players step up into new roles, that should just only give us confidence going forward.”

It was a tale of two halves and the Jumbos roared back after the break, equalizing after 54 minutes. Senior midfielder Brooke Fortin’s cross was not cleanly gathered by the Judges’ senior goalkeeper Alexis Grossman and senior forward Jess Capone followed in with a slide to put the ball in the back of the net. Capone is only the second player to score on the Judges’ defense this year.

The goal galvanized Tufts, re-energizing the team and flipping the script on Brandeis, who were now on the receiving end of the high-press game. Senior co-captain Robin Estus was a dominant presence in the midfield, directing play and leading by example.

“We just got mad; at half time we got each other pumped up, we thought how exciting it would be to go back out to score two goals on them and storm the field, and that was really the visual that got us going,” Estus said. “We scored pretty quickly in the second half, so it worked.”

Last year, Brandeis came away with a 1-0 win courtesy of then-junior forward Cidney Moscovitch’s goal. Moscovitch proved to be a thorn in Tufts’ side again this year with her direct runs, but the Jumbos’ defense was able to keep her and the Judges’ top scorer, senior forward Lea McDaniel, quiet. When they did find a way past the Jumbos’ defense, the team recovered quickly. First-year defender Tally Clark blocked crosses and repeatedly won the ball back for her team. Sophomore keeper Emily Bowers also played a big part in keeping Brandeis out, making 10 saves over the course of the match.

Other first-years also impressed: Sarah Maloney cleared off the line within seconds after coming on to play outside her natural position as a defender, while Jenna Troccoli added energy and composure in the midfield in the second half.

“Sometimes you feel like you’re taking a chance putting a [first-year] on in a very important game, but [Troccoli] … did really amazingly for the position she was put in and I’m proud of her for that,” coach Martha Whiting said. “She has a really great ability to maintain possession of the ball and settle things down and look for the open player and reset us. She also … is really strong and able to win the ball back when she loses it. Defensively, offensively, all around she had a great game.”

Whiting also had high praise for her team’s fighting spirit.

“We played some of the best soccer I’ve seen today; we played one and two touch, we played strong, we played hard,” she said. “We had different players contributing but we responded so unbelievably well to the adversity of the first half – it’s the first time we’ve been down all year, and I loved the way we responded. But we can’t be satisfied with responding that way and not coming out with a win.”

On Wednesday, Tufts was frustrated by a plucky Wesleyan side that seemed more content to hit Tufts on the break and remain compact at the back. Tufts was dominant, spending the bulk of the first half in Wesleyan territory. The Jumbos took 14 shots in regulation time compared to the Cardinals’ four. The Jumbos were unable to find a way past the Cardinals’ first-year keeper Zoe Cassels-Brown, who repeatedly denied shots on net. Cassels-Brown ended the game with nine saves.

The closest the Jumbos came to breaking the deadlock was at 69 minutes, when junior midfielder Margaret Zahrah sent the ball from the left side searching out Capone, but Capone’s header flashed wide past the post.

“We were [really a] little frustrated with the result because we were unable to finish any of our chances and it’s always tough against Wesleyan,” Capone said. “Especially coming off of last year’s loss, we wanted to avenge that loss and show them that we’re a dominant team. I just think we didn’t connect as well in the game, and we weren’t really settled.”

As the game went into overtime, Tufts pushed more of its players forward in search of the winning goal, leaving them exposed to Wesleyan’s long ball counter attack. Bowers, who was left untroubled in regulation, was called into action to make three saves in overtime. The best of those saves came after 99 minutes, when she recovered from the ground and made a finger-tip save to deny Wesleyan senior forward Sarah Sylla.

Tufts’ next game is at home against MIT on Tuesday afternoon before they host a NESCAC double header against Amherst on Oct. 1 and Hamilton a day later as part of Tufts’ Homecoming Weekend. Despite the two ties, the players remain confident about their system and their prospects going forward.

“We’re in a good place right now — we’ve a strong offense and strong defense, and we’re working really well with our 3-5-2 at the moment,” Clark said. “We’ve been working on that since pre-season; now we’re coming into the season strong.”