Women's Soccer 1997 Wrap Up
VILLANOVA, Pa. - It is not always how a team starts a season that determines success, but often how one turns a season around and finishes it. When Ann Clifton became head coach of the Villanova women's soccer team before the 1997 season, she knew it would take time for the team to learn a new and unfamiliar system. Clifton also knew however, that she had a great deal of talent on her hands, and when they did finally learn the system, the sky was the limit.
As the season began, the Wildcats lost three straight games, to the likes of George Mason, Navy and Wake Forest. In their first three games Villanova was unable to get its offense in gear, and was outscored 6-0. On Sept. 7 against High Point University, however, the Wildcats broke out with a 6-0 victory. In that game, senior midfielder Maura McGhee and sophomore forward Lauren Sellers, each contributed two goals and one assist.
With the defeat of the Panthers of High Point, Villanova began to roll and went on to tally an 8-3-2 record over their next 13 games. On Sept. 14, when No. 20 nationally ranked Penn State visited the Villanova Soccer Field, the Wildcats sent them packing with a 2-1 defeat. Despite a 1-0 second half lead by Villanova, the game was tied at one with five minutes remaining. That was until McGhee put the Wildcats ahead to stay, drilling a shot past the Nittany Lion goalie Dara Christante.
The Wildcat hot streak began not coincidentally at the same time that McGhee began to catch fire on offense. In a 13-game-span, she recorded 11 goals and three assists. The Villanova defense was just as extraordinary, led by senior back Beth McCaffery, freshman back Justina Smith, and junior goalie Jeanne Hennessy. After being outscored 6-0 in the season's first three contests, the Wildcat defense gave just 1.29 goals a game for the remainder of the regular season.
Losing to nationally ranked Notre Dame and Connecticut back-to-back, Villanova's record stood at 4-6-1 overall and 2-3 in the Big East heading into a showdown with the Red Storm of St. John's. Down 1-0 to the Red Storm at halftime, the Wildcats showed the determination of champions in the second half, tying up the game with 35 minutes remaining and later scoring two more goals to bring home a 3-1 victory. For her performance against St. John's and later against Syracuse where she scored the game's only goal, McGhee was named the Big East Co-Offensive Player-of-the-Week.
Heading into the final Big East weekend, Villanova needed one or possibly two victories to ensure themselves a spot in the four-team Big East Championship. The Wildcats, however, took destiny into their own hands defeating both Providence (6-0 on 10/24) and Boston College (1-0 on 10/26) to clinch their third consecutive Big East Championship appearance. For her performance in holding the Friars and Eagles scoreless in 135 minutes of work, Hennessy was named the Big East Defensive Player-of-the-Week on 10/27.
Despite losing to Notre Dame in the semifinals of the Big East Championship on Nov. 7, the 1997 season was none-the-less one of turnaround, and one of both individual and team accomplishments for the Wildcat women's soccer team. Villanova had outstanding individual highlights as senior Maura McGhee was named to the All-Big East first team and fellow senior Beth McCaffery was named to the All-Big East Second Team As a team, Villanova turned a 2-3 Big East start into a 6-4-1 finish and a Big East Championship berth. Most importantly, however, the Wildcats proved to both themselves and to the opposition, what they are capable of accomplishing on the Big East and the national scene.
Overall Record: 8-8-2