The Flyers and Billikens line up for lineups and the national anthem before Friday’s game at Baujan Field. Photo courtesy of Keegan Gupta, Flyer News.
Peter Burtnett | Sports Editor
Dayton Flyers women’s soccer season came to an emotional ending as they fell short 4-2 against Saint Louis in the Atlantic 10 Tournament semifinals on Friday at Baujan Field.
“Initial reaction, obviously heartbroken for our players,” Flyers head coach Eric Golz said. “I think they’ve worked incredibly hard all year long to continue to grow and develop and make some significant progress as a program and as a team… We committed to competing for 90 minutes. I think that we were our own worst enemy (today).”
The Flyers got off to a rough start to the match with several missed passes or bad touches in the opening minutes of the game, the most glaring of which was an own goal inside the first minute.
“I think that they were very intentional about putting us under a great deal of pressure and trying to have us defend facing our own goal,” Golz said. “And trying to make it difficult for us to play through them and play around them.”
But the Billikens lead did not last long, as a cross sent in by freshman winger Noel Blain in the seventh minute found junior forward Laney Huber. With plenty of space around her, Huber controlled the ball and chipped a lofted shot over Emily Puricelli to tie the match at 1.
The next 20 minutes were played at a slower, though physical, pace, but Saint Louis broke through again in the 28th minute. Abbie Miller lofted a through ball pass over the top of the defense to Caroline Kelly. The sophomore forward blazed past Flyers junior center back Mackenzie Lutz and fired a right-footed shot into the right side of the net to give the visitors the lead back.
This lead lasted a few minutes longer, but in the 37th minute, the Flyers once again answered, starting with a cross. Junior Jessica Sheldon sent in the ball, and senior wide midfielder Alexa Holl, playing with a cast on her left arm, volleyed an easy but firm right-footed shot into the net to even the match at 2.
At halftime, both teams were evenly matched, with the Billikens holding the advantage on shots (4-3), but the Flyers being more efficient with their shots on goal (3-1). Aside from the thrilling goals (and less thrilling own goal), a yellow card shown to Billikens midfielder Anna Walsh epitomized a physical first half when she strongly fouled junior midfielder Yaiza Navarro Leon.
The Billikens took the lead and put the match at arm’s reach within a minute early in the second half. In the 50th minute, Mattyn Summers hit the ball with her thigh into the net off a cross from Brionna Halverson to take a 3-2 lead. Less than 60 seconds later, a clearance attempt from a corner kick was sent high into the air, and when it came back down, Flyers junior attacking midfielder Marlee Taylor tried to clear the ball but instead headed it into the top of her own net for the second Dayton own goal.
“I think that we made some mistakes,” Golz said. “As we look back at the video, but again, I think that we competed to the end.”
With a 4-2 lead, the Billikens kept the Flyers away from a true goal-scoring opportunity and saw out a sixth win this year over the Flyers to advance to the A-10 Championship Game against UMass on Sunday at Baujan Field (noon).
For the Flyers, the season comes to an emotional end, with many of the players visibly teary-eyed after the game. Golz is still proud of the team after a disappointing end to the season.
“For the seniors first and foremost, (I’m) just incredibly grateful for their contributions over the course of their career. They’ve helped our program grow. They’ve made contributions on the field off the field in the community, I think they leave a tremendous legacy for the returning players.
“Just learning about the cost of winning come tournament time and how challenging and difficult that is and how high you need to be plugged in and against for 90 minutes. But I think that we, as a group, talked about pride in the effort that we put into not just today but throughout the course of the season. proud of the progress that this team showed and looking forward to building on this season and being stronger, being better next year.”