Huber and Gemelli (pictured embracing in celebration earlier this season) were the catalysts for the Flyers’ comeback, combining for three goals and 1 assist. Photo courtesy of Keegan Gupta, Flyer News.
Peter Burtnett | Sports Editor
After a slow start that saw them fall behind 2-0 within three minutes, the Dayton Flyers women’s soccer team scored four second-half goals to earn a hard-fought key win over George Washington on Thursday night at Baujan Field.
The Colonials jumped right out in front when freshman defender Alicia Window got to a loose ball just outside the penalty box and then chipped a shot over Flyers sophomore goalkeeper Madelyn Dewey to give the visitors a 1-0 lead 12 seconds in.
“I think we were really reacting quite a bit, and slow to react,” Flyers head coach Eric Golz said. “I mean 12 seconds, they scored a goal 12 seconds into the game. In terms of our starting positions off the kickoff, in terms of just finding opportunities to disrupt what they were trying to do and win passes, win tackles, we were sleeping. There’s no other way to put it, there’s nothing, there’s no window dressing, to put on, we started the game slow.”
Junior midfielder Laney Huber added, “Things happen, it didn’t work out the way we wanted it to.”
Just two minutes later, Window once again got a loose ball in the box, turned and fired a shot into the right side of the net to give the Colonials a very early 2-0 lead.
Golz said he is “happy and proud” of the “resolve and resilience” the team showed, but that falling behind like that is “not a winning formula.”
Over the remainder of the first half, the Flyers tallied six corner kicks and seven shots, but only two shots were on goal and no real chances developed. The only other development was a yellow card shown to Flyers sophomore forward Itala Gemelli in the 20th minute. Huber would also be shown a yellow card later in the game when she ran into Colonials’ redshirt junior goalkeeper Tamaki Machi, hitting her knee to Machi’s face and causing the visiting goalkeeper to briefly come out of the game.
Huber had ice wrapped around her right knee after the game, but said it was “okay.”
“I had an accident with the goalkeeper, it was not intentional, things happen, you can’t stop yourself when you’re moving quickly, so it’s okay.”
Gemelli added that while the game was physical, the playing surface had a bigger impact.
“This field was slippery, it was a little wet today too, so I think that had a big impact on (the fouls and yellow cards). There were certain things where you didn’t necessarily mean to keep going but you couldn’t really stop, like (Huber) said, the momentum was there, so I think it was just slippery and physical, so the combination of the two made it tough.”
Similar to how the Colonials started the game, the Flyers got one goal back three minutes into the second half. Sophomore attacking midfielder Diana Benigno sent a pass towards the penalty spot, and the ball deflected to Huber, who fired a shot into the top of the net to cut the deficit in half for her fourth goal of the season.
“The mindset (at halftime) simply was, ‘Does anyone believe that we can’t do this,’ and they’re all like, ‘No, let’s do it,'” Golz said. “(So the message was) well, here’s how we’re going to do it. We tweaked a couple of things at halftime shape-wise, tweaked a few things personnel-wise, but at the end of the day, quite honestly, the second half is how we typically play in terms of style, what we’re trying to do on attack, how we transition to defense, how we defend as a team.”
Huber had a chance to equalize, but sent a shot attempt just wide of the net in the 52nd minute.
In the 65th minute, the Flyers equalized when freshman winger Noel Blain made a stepover move and sped past her defender on the right flank. Blain sent a low cross into the box, and it was met by the right foot of redshirt sophomore forward Alicia Donley and sent into the back of the net to even the score at 2.
“Some of the players underneath the forwards (in the formation), you know with Marlee (Taylor), Diana, Alexis (Goins), they’ve done an incredible job of helping us link the back to the front, and helping us to create opportunities to get behind the opposing team,” Golz said. “The second half they did a much, much better job of winning first and second balls that were coming off their backline. So second half, they dictated the tempo of the game.
“And underneath them, Yaiza I thought had an incredible game, she just did an incredible amount of work side-to-side, transitioning and defending, and was really composed in terms of just calmly and coolly breaking pressure. I think Addie Shock came off the bench and was tremendous and her composure and decision-making under pressure, and helping us break pressure. Natalie Hegg, I thought had a really good second half, so there were a number of pieces that we moved people around positionally, we moved combinations of players, not that they were interchangeable parts, but people stepped up where they’re needed in multiple positions and with multiple combinations of people, so I think it was encouraging to see moving forward.”
The Flyers complete the comeback just two minutes later. Gemelli got to a through ball and was one-on-one with Machi, who was back in the game after the hit to the face from Huber’s leg. Once to the ball, Gemelli ran towards goal and tried to push the ball around Machi, but was brought down. Machi received a yellow card, and Gemelli calmly stepped up and passed her penalty kick into the bottom left corner to give the Flyers a 3-2 lead.
In the 85th minute, the Flyers effectively put the game away with Gemelli’s second goal of the game. Huber worked through a few defenders, passed the ball into the center of the penalty area to Gemelli, who turned and fired a shot into the bottom left corner of the net to give the Flyers a 4-2 lead.
“I think what contributed most (to four goals) is that we came out with energy, we came out with speed (in the second half),” Gemelli said. “I think in the beginning we started off just like (Huber) said, slow, and this half, we came out with speed, we started keeping the ball, connecting it, pinging passes back-and-forth and it spread their defenders out and that’s how the goals came.”
Huber added that the team was “really focused on waves of attacks” and “not letting up after the first shot,” which is how she was able to score her goal on a deflected pass from Benigno.
“If I wasn’t bringing in that second wave of attack, it wouldn’t have happened.”
The Flyers held on for the key Atlantic 10 win and will play at St. Bonaventure (4-3 A-10, 6-6-3 overall) Sunday at 1 p.m.. They will return to Baujan Field for their last home game of the regular season against Fordham (1-5-1 A-10, 3-10-2), and then back onto the road to close out the regular season against Richmond (4-3 A-10, 6-7-1 overall).
After suffering a tough 3-1 loss to A-10 leading VCU on Sunday, Golz said being able to bounce back both within Thursday’s game and from “game to game” is encouraging.
“So I think that now, again, we’re getting to a point where the bar has been raised, the stakes have been raised, and we need to rise to the occasion. I think we need to rise to the occasion with simply doing what we’re capable of doing from beginning to end for 90 minutes game in, game out.”
With just three games left, the Flyers are currently tied for second place with Saint Louis, which would earn a home game for the quarterfinals taking place on either Oct. 30 or 31.
“At this point, we’re fighting to earn our way in the tournament, first and foremost,” Golz said. “Secondly, fighting to try and earn the opportunity to host (a) first round match here at Baujan, and then keeping within arm’s length if things happen above us. So I think that everything we do right now is preparation for our skill set, our mindset to succeed in the tournament. And I think building on this second half is certainly something positive that we can look at and celebrate and enjoy. And not it’s about consistency of bringing that standard. So I’m excited.”