The Dayton Flyers women’s soccer team huddles up before their 3-1 quarterfinal win over Richmond Oct. 31 at Baujan Field. Photo courtesy of Keegan Gupta, Flyer News.
Peter Burtnett | Sports Editor
Before the Flyers’ sixth match against Saint Louis this calendar year arrives Friday, the Atlantic 10 announced their women’s soccer postseason awards Thursday.
Leading the way for the Flyers is sophomore forward Itala Gemelli, who was named the A-10 Offensive Player of the Year (12 goals, 4 assists) and to the First Team All-Conference. Joining Gemelli on the first team was junior winger Jessica Sheldon (4 goals, 6 assists; also named to All-Academic Team) and junior center back Mackenzie Lutz (team-high 1494 minutes played, 6 clean sheets).
Two fellow juniors, forward Laney Huber (7 goals, 2 assists) and attacking midfielder Marlee Taylor (6 goals, 3 assists) were named to the All-Conference Second Team.
Along with the boost that winning awards provides, the Flyers are also on a five-game winning streak as they head into their match against the Billikens.
“We have had a few wins coming into this tournament which is awesome, coming in hot,” Lutz said during media availability Wednesday. “I think it’s just a team effort out there. Everyone’s really working hard putting in the work at practice and on the field. And we’re just really working well together right now. So it’s really awesome coming in and tournament with those wins.”
In contrast to their five-game winning streak, though, the Flyers have the same number of losses consecutively to the Billikens in 2021. During the altered spring season, the Flyers played the nationally-ranked Billikens three times during the regular season (3-2 double-overtime loss March 18, 3-1 April 8 and 2-1 April 11) and once in the A-10 tournament (3-0 in the semifinal).
Although Saint Louis hasn’t had the same level as success as they had during the spring, they still earned the No. 3 seed and defeated Dayton 1-0 in St. Louis, Mo., Sept. 19. Flyers head coach Eric Golz recognizes the talent his team is going up against.
“I think that St. Louis obviously is a very talented, very well coached team. They’re the defending champions. There’s no one else that we’d rather have the opportunity to play against as we try and earn an opportunity to compete for a championship for us. We know that, you know, set pieces are critical for them. They score a lot of goals off of set pieces.
“So I think we need to do a good job of denying them some of these opportunities and then defending them when they do earn them. But I think there there’s a lot of familiarity, but each time we play tweaks are made by both teams. So it’s it’s not necessarily the same match every time. I think every time there’s new wrinkles, there’s new players, and there’s different forms, and venues certainly have an impact.”
For Sheldon, who often speeds past or dribbles around defenders on the left flank, the game plan remains the same.
“I’ll probably just do the same thing I always do. Go to the left side, cross it in and play my teammates and hope they can get in on that.”
When asked whether there is anything in the Billikens defense to exploit, Sheldon didn’t give specifics but emphasized the familiarity.
“We’ve played against them so many times now that we kind of know how they play and we’ve worked on that and watch film and such, so we know how to exploit that.”
Both players and Golz said being able to play the conference tournament at home is important, but hearing about No. 1 seed VCU’s 1-0 loss to Saint Joseph’s was “awesome.”
“We had a meeting actually scheduled about five minutes after that game ended,” Golz said. “So it was a little bit of a party type atmosphere, and also having to coincide with the men winning (4-3) in double overtime (to clinch a spot in the men’s A-10 tournament). So it was it was a good night to be a Flyer.”
As amazing as the opportunity to host the A-10 tournament is, the ultimate goal is to play in the NCAA tournament.
“(Playing in the NCAA Tournament,) it’s huge for us,” Sheldon said. “That’s also been a goal. And if we get that, we will get that chance when we win, so it’ll be huge.”
The Flyers’ semifinal match against the Billikens will kick off after the semifinal between Saint Joseph’s and UMass (1 p.m.) Friday at 4 p.m. at Baujan Field.