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Women’s soccer rides defense to NCAA tournament berth

By Brian Tabakin

Section: Sports

November 9, 2012

Earlier this week, the women’s soccer team defeated NYU 3-0 in the final match of the regular season behind a pair of first-half goals from Dara Spital ’15 and a stalwart effort from keeper Francine Kofinas ’13 as she made a season-high five saves in the first half.

With the win, the Judges finish the season with a record of 13-4-2 (2-3-2 UAA), finishing fifth place in the UAA.

Spital gave the Judges a lead they would not relinquish just five minutes into the game. She gained possession of the ball at midfield and then dribbled past her defender to the left and then unleashed a bullet, beyond the reach of the NYU keeper, into the right side of the net. The goal was Spital’s 11th of the season and her seventh game winner, first in the UAA and fifth overall in Division III.

Spital credited the first goal to a great pass. “After the pass, there was a lot of space to work with and I beat a couple of defenders,” she said.

Aided by their relentless defense, the Judges generated sustained offensive pressure on the NYU keeper for the next 20 minutes, firing off seven shots on goal. Spital broke through once again in the 25th minute to pad the Judges’ lead.

Midfielder Mary Shimko ’14 played the ball into the box where Spital then deflected the ball off the far post and into the goal. This was Spital’s third multi-goal game of the season, but her first such game since early September. The assist was Shimko’s second of the season.

After Spital’s second goal, the NYU offense came alive and Kofinas stood on her head for the Judges, making three saves in a span of only five minutes. She denied Serra Tumay in the 43rd minute and then stopped both Amelia Hammerl and Leslie Smith in the closing seconds of the first half before the final whistle.

Keeping with their system of dual-keepers, Michelle Savuto ’15 picked up where Kofinas left off in the second half, anchoring the Judges’ defense.

Savuto opened up the second half with another save on Hammerl to keep the Violets off the board. Savuto made two more saves before the game ended to complete the Judges’ 13th shutout of the season, extending their single-season record.

Brandeis added a third and final goal with just 1.9 seconds left in the contest after Zoe Siegel’s ’13 corner kick was played from Megan Kessler ’14 back to Haley Schachter ’16 who tapped the ball into the net for her first collegiate goal of the season.

Two days after the game, on Monday, the NCAA announced that the Judges had received one of the at-large bids for the tournament. This will be the Judges’ second berth in the tournament in the past three years.

Spital and the Judges have been focused on the match ahead and not getting caught up in the tournament hype. “Our main goal is to stay focused and play how we’ve been playing and reflect who we are as a team.”

The Judges will travel to Amherst College on Saturday, Nov. 10 for a 1:30 p.m. matchup against 24th-ranked Union College (15-3) who earned an at-large selection from the Liberty League.

If the Judges make a deep run into the tournament it will be on the back of their defense. They set a school record with 13 shutouts in 19 games as Savuto and Kofinas split time in goal; Kofinas started every game while Savuto played the second half and overtime. Brandeis finished second in the league with 87 saves and fourth with a .82 goals-against average.

Spital credits the team’s defensive prowess to team chemistry. “We have a lot of heart. It makes keeping the ball out of the net easier when you trust each other.”

Spital led the Judges’ offense with 12 goals and five assists on the season for a total of 29 points.

An auspicious sign for the Judges is their 5-3-1 record against teams in the regular season that made the tournament. This heightened competition will help the Judges in the always competitive NCAA tournament.

In the tournament, Union will make a staggering 10th appearance in 14 years. The Judges will have to contain senior forward Jennifer Mansfield who was named the Liberty League player of the year with 13 goals and four assists, finishing the season with 30 points. Their keeper, Kayla Marti led the league with a .874 save percentage.

Union’s only three losses this season were played against Rochester Institute of Technology and William Smith College, both of which made the NCAA tournament.

The Judges and Dutchwomen had only one common opponent on the season with both squads defeating the Rochester Yellowjackets 1-0.

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