Nov. 1, 2007
VILLANOVA, Pa. - Senior forwards Nikki Mabery (Phoenix, Ariz.) and Stacia Hartung (Rochester, N.Y.) each had a goal and an assist on Thursday afternoon and #4 seed Villanova (11-3-6) advanced to the BIG EAST Championship quarterfinals with a 2-0 victory over #5 seed USF (4-10-3) in a first round game played at the West Campus Soccer Complex. The Wildcats scored a goal in each half and advance to play #1 seed West Virginia this coming Sunday at 1 p.m. at Dick Dlesk Stadium in Morgantown.
"I think it is fair to say that the team is playing its best soccer of the season right now," Villanova head coach Ann Clifton said. "We have been playing great soccer for a couple of weeks now and our play is leading to positive results."
Hartung and Mabery assisted on each other's goals as Villanova put multiple shots into the back of the net for the first time in a span of 12 games. Just past the midway point of the first half Mabery slid into a defender to steal a ball in USF territory and junior Erin Hardiman (Galloway, N.J.) passed the loose ball to Hartung at the top of the box. With Bulls goalkeeper Mallory Lofton-Malachi charging the ball, Hartung just had time to head it past her and into the left side of the net at 31:05.
The Wildcat goal in the second half came at perhaps the worst time for USF, which opened the period by taking seven of the first eight shots in an attempt to find an equalizer. Villanova initially had trouble clearing the ball out of harm's way but finally brought a ball downfield on the right side. From a few yards in front of the sideline, Hartung directed a shot at the goal that was saved by Lofton-Malachi, but Mabery stole the rebound and tapped the ball to the left corner of the net to effectively take away any momentum the Bulls had been building.
"It may be a bit of superstition on our part but we have used the same starting lineup in the last three games that we have won," Clifton said. "Nikki is a great team player and for her to come off the bench in these three games shows that. Nikki gets in the game and she wants to score because that is what she does. I think the monkey jumped off her back today."
USF did wind up taking nine of its 10 shots after halftime but the elite Villanova defense and senior goalkeeper Jillian Loyden (Vineland, N.J.) were more than up to the challenge of keeping the Bulls off the scoreboard. Loyden had four saves, all in the second half, to establish a career-best with her 12th solo shutout of the season.
In their 20th game of the season, the Wildcats posted their 14th team shutout to take the overall national lead in shutouts. This was the third straight shutout victory for Villanova, which has not allowed a goal in the last 328:14 since early in the second half of a game against West Virginia on October 21.
The Wildcats have scored a goal in the first half of two consecutive games now after going nine consecutive games without scoring a goal prior to the intermission. Before the goal by Hartung in the 32nd minute, Villanova nearly got the game's first goal in the opening minutes. Just 5:03 into the contest, a shot by sophomore Erin Byrnes (Sayville, N.Y.) was deflected by Lofton-Malachi into the right goalpost. The ball sat on the goalmouth and Lofton-Malachi initially regained control before Hardiman was able to get off a shot that was saved.
The first half saw the Wildcats create several good scoring chances, including a deep shot by freshman Justine Wollner (Downingtown, Pa.) that went just over the top left corner of the crossbar at 35:28. Lofton-Malachi made two saves in the game as Villanova owned a 12-10 shot advantage.
For the fifth time this season and second game in a row the Wildcats did not allow their opponent a single corner kick opportunity. This afternoon's game included several battles in the midfield and Villanova took the lone corner kick of the contest late in the first half.
Heading into a quarterfinal game on Sunday against the first-place team from the American Division, the Wildcats arguably are playing their best soccer of the season. Villanova has matched a season best with a three-game winning streak just days after having its back against the wall just to clinch a spot in the conference tournament. The Wildcats defeated Louisville and Cincinnati last weekend to close out the regular season and knocked out USF today in a rematch of two teams that played to a scoreless draw in Tampa last month.
Live stats via Gametracker will be available at www.villanova.com for Sunday's game against West Virginia. The Mountaineers defeated the Wildcats 1-0 at the West Campus Soccer Complex on October 21.
"The turnaround from today's game to Sunday is an easy one for us because we are typically used to playing each Friday and Sunday," Clifton said. "We are going to go with a very light practice tomorrow and then put some things in that we need on Saturday. Having played West Virginia just a couple of weeks ago we are well aware of how good they are and how capable a team they are. Sunday's game presents a great challenge but I am excited to bring out team into their place given how we are playing right now. If we continue to play at a high level the sky is the limit for this team."