MOON TOWNSHIP, Pa. — The Robert Morris women’s soccer team positioned itself for a grand Finale to its Fall 2021 home opener, but visiting Valparaiso dampened the mood before a driving rain after the final whistle washed it away entirely, to say nothing of the rest of campus.
The Beacons (1-2-1) rallied to a 2-1 win over the Colonials (1-3-0) in non-conference action before a respectable crowd at the North Athletic Complex on an otherwise sunny and humid Sunday afternoon in southwestern Pennsylvania.
Six minutes into the contest, a distant flash of lightning amid an otherwise clear sky delayed what would turn out to be a goalless first half by half an hour. Sophomore forward Haleigh Finale put RMU on top in the 50th minute before a pair of goals 13 minutes apart by defenders Abbey Hillman and Abigail White sent the Colonials to back-to-back defeats.
Redshirt junior midfielder Kaoru Hayashi, surrounded by Valparaiso midfielders, connected with Finale on a long through ball to the left side. The South Park product entered the 18-yard box with a head of steam and slotted the ball into the far post, beyond the dive of rookie keeper Nikki Coryell, for her second goal of the season, giving Hayashi her second assist of the year.
“I saw ‘Ka’ with the ball, trying to play it to me, and I know how good she is with the ball at her feet,” Finale said. “I just made the run, and she put the ball where it needed to be.”
Robert Morris became more assertive after conceding the first three corners of the match within the first 25 minutes of play. The Colonials out-shot Valpo 5-4 in the first half and 13-11 on the day, with Finale accounting for six of those shots, including three of the team’s seven that were on target.
RMU went into the locker room at halftime with a 53%-47% edge in possession.
“Our energy on the field [impressed me]. I thought, when we came out, we were ready to go, and I liked the desire to win that we had,” said Finale.
Head coach Chris Shaw had beamed about Hayashi prior to the start of regular-season play as a focal point of the RMU attack, and the Japanese youth international made several good runs of her own from the center of the Colonials’ 3-4-3 formation. She went the full 90 and finished with three shots, two of them on goal, and made her presence felt defensively as well.
“She really holds the midfield together,” Finale corroborated. “She can always put the ball right where it needs to be, and she’s really good with free kicks. She’s great…and we really rely on her.”
Hillman brought the Beacons level in the 61st minute by attracting the attention of Robert Morris’ backline and driving a quality shot from the top of the box inside the left post, just out of the reach of graduate keeper Courtney Worstell. White put them ahead for good in the 74th, when the Colonials couldn’t clean up a loose ball inside their own box.
Forward Kelsie James pounced on that ball, drove the backline and crossed it perfectly for White, right in front of the RMU goal. White had no trouble finishing top shelf.
“What we need to work on is just keeping those leads, when we have them, and just finishing our opportunities,” said Finale. “We had [the shot advantage], and we still lost, so we just need to learn to put the ball away.”
That’s exactly what Hayashi almost did with four minutes remaining. She let one rip from 30 yards that forced Coryell to leap to her right and parry it out of bounds. The ensuing corner kick by Hayashi was cleaned up much more easily by Coryell’s defense.
With the game 1-1, the Ama, Japan native cleared a dangerous cross by Lindsey Dutsako from the right wing off Worstell’s line to briefly preserve the tie before Valparaiso went ahead. Worstell later gathered in a fortuitous bounce off the inside of the left post that nearly gave James a brace, keeping the Colonials within reach.
Hayashi’s fellow middie, Sheridan Reid, made one final threatening run for Robert Morris, but she couldn’t solve a double-team on the right flank that weakened the Colonials’ last shot attempt of the game.
It was a somber ending for the home side, though it did elicit a few noticeable cheers from a local group of Valpo supporters that turned out for Irwin native Kiley Dugan. The rookie forward and former All-PIAA selection for Penn-Trafford got a starting XI nod for the visitors, recording one foul and one shot on goal, right before halftime, in 67 minutes at the front of John Marovich’s 4-3-3.
The Colonials’ best chance before the break came on the half-hour mark, with Reid flying down the right side and crossing for Finale. The Beacons dodged a bullet when the resulting shot from close range was chipped over the bar for a goal kick.
“I can definitely work on putting the ball in the back of the net more, that’s for sure,” said Finale. “I can help the team by being more of an attacking player.”
Worstell, making her second start in a row, registered two saves and had as many adventurous free kicks from just shy of the midfield stripe. She surprised the crowd in the 17th minute with her powerful hit all the way into the box that Kristi Kania redirected, from her forehead, right into the stomach of Coryell. Another, with just over ten minutes left and RMU trailing, had to be grabbed on a bounce by Worstell’s counterpart.
Kania herself tried to break the ice in the run of play, but her own long ball in the 36th minute couldn’t find the outstretched head of Kayla Veloso-Lima, Shaw’s first sub of the game, in front of goal.
While the Beacons take the seven-hour bus ride home to Indiana, the Robert Morris women will take a much shorter one to Loretto, Pennsylvania on Thursday to face longtime rival–and former conference foe–Saint Francis University. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:00 p.m. EDT.