The Western women’s soccer team improved to 7-0-1 after two shutout wins against the University of Bridgeport on Thursday, Sept. 22 and Simon Fraser University on Saturday, Sept. 24. Stellar defense against Simon Fraser and an outburst of offense in a nationally televised game against Bridgeport powered them through the week.
Two goals within the first 10 minutes sparked nationally-ranked number seven Western to a 5-0 win over the number 10 Bridgeport Purple Knights at Robert S. Harrington Field. The game was broadcast nationally on ESPN3 and the WatchESPN app.
“We knew we had to set the tone early and usually that’s with our defense, but tonight it was with those two goals.”
Sophomore forward Gabriela Pelogi played a part in each of Western’s first two goals. She scored the first goal in the seventh minute on an assist by junior defender Sierra Shugarts that Pelogi placed just past Bridgeport’s diving keeper into the left side of the net. Pelogi set up the next goal one minute later when she dribbled the ball down the right side and hooked a cross in front of the goal senior forward Elise Aylward slammed in.
“For our team, it’s really important to come out and score really early so we can relax a little bit,” Pelogi said.
Western scored once more in the first half when senior defender Erin Russell cleaned up a corner kick in the 27th minute, firing a shot from 8 yards out. In the second half, a cross from Aylward’s foot to senior midfielder Caitlyn Jobanek’s head found the back of the net in the 56th minute. The final goal of the night came in the 73rd minute when Bridgeport’s keeper was unable to push a shot away from the goal and junior forward Colleen Lindsay scored off of the rebound.
Fourteenth-year head coach Travis Connell emphasized the importance of getting off to a strong start.
“It’s huge,” Connell said. “We knew we had to set the tone early and usually that’s with our defense, but tonight it was with those two goals.”
On defense, the key player was Shugarts who helped hold Bridgeport to only two shots in the first half and made sure the Purple Knights couldn’t score a goal.
“Sierra is a great player and when you play big games against good teams you need your leaders to step up, and she totally rose to that challenge,” Connell said.
Western has won 18 games in a row at home, and overall, is 26-1-1 at Harrington Field. The Vikings ranked eighth in National Collegiate Athletic Association Division II for attendance last year with an average of 404 fans in the 12 home matches. Shugarts said the team thrives off of its home field advantage.
“I think it’s just the vibes,” Shugarts said. “We want to perform well and we’re so comfortable on our field with the width, and a lot of teams aren’t used to how big it is. So, it’s really important we take advantage of that.
In the second game of the week, Western traveled across the Canadian border to play Simon Fraser and walked away with a 1-0 win on Saturday, Sept. 24, at Terry Fox Field in Burnaby, British Columbia.
“…now we’re scoring goals and they’re coming from different people.”
The Pelogi to Alyward connection struck again in the 26th minute as Alyward scored a goal for the third game in a row. The lone goal in the match was good for her 16th career goal, giving the senior 45 career points.
Shugarts said her team’s style is to keep possession and outwork the opponent, which is evident in the 17 goals scored by the Vikings compared to just two allowed. All but one of Western’s wins this year have been shutouts thanks in part to junior goalie Ashley Homer, who is ranked second in the GNAC with a 0.25 goals against average.
Connell said it’s too early to evaluate how good his team is this year, but what makes them unique is they’re consistently improving.
“We kind of hung our hat on defense at the beginning of the year, but now we’re scoring goals and they’re coming from different people,” Connell said.
Western is in the midst of a seven-game winning streak and is undefeated in its last 32 GNAC matches. The women’s soccer team’s next match is against the Saint Martin’s University Saints at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 29, at Harrington Field.