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Drawn Together: RMU Women Optimistic After IUPUI Impasse

MOON TOWNSHIP, Pa. — The Robert Morris women’s soccer team has learned a lot about itself in defeat and in victory this season, and maybe even more about itself in between the two.

A 0-0 draw with Horizon League rival IUPUI following extra time on a chilly Sunday afternoon at the North Athletic Complex gave the Colonials (1-5-3, 5-9-3) points in consecutive conference matches for the first time under head coach Chris Shaw.

With two more remaining, RMU has earned results in four Horizon contests in all. This already constitutes an improvement from the pandemic-delayed and -shortened 2020-21 season, its first in the daunting league.

Although the ninth-place Jaguars (2-5-2, 3-10-3) have fallen on hard times of their own, the Indianapolis side was a respected one, coming off a third straight conference tournament berth, as it entered the fall campaign. The Colonials, to date, are fighting for such respect, and they have earned more than a modicum from their young, second-year manager.

“I’m starting to see the players doing more of the things that we talk about on a regular  basis. We have a style and a way that we want to play, and that’s made it tough to break lingering bad habits,” said Shaw. “But we’re seeing [those habits] broken more and more often.

“It’s a process, anytime you’re trying to change the culture and success of a team, and it takes a while. I don’t know if we’ve turned a corner, but perhaps we’re rounding a corner, and I do think the players have a better understanding of what it takes to get results at this level.

“We’ve just got to work a little bit harder, and that’s what they did today.”

Junior forward Gabriella Lecuona, for one, looked determined to take all three points for the hosts. She might have done so all by herself, if not for the sharp fundamental play of AP Woodall.

The senior keeper was the Horizon League leader in saves prior to Sunday, when she added 11 more to her total. RMU finished on 23 shot attempts to 13 for the visitors.

“We’ve started putting in a lot more effort these last [few] games. We’re usually not too strong in the first half, but we came out strong, and our second half was just as strong,” Leucona said. “We couldn’t finish today, but it’s no problem. We fought hard.”

It seemed, from the outset, that Robert Morris might cause quite a few problems for IUPUI out of its aggressive 3-5-2 formation. The Colonials landed half of their eight first-half shots on target, and at the other end, redshirt junior Isabella Bohlen wasn’t called into action until almost midway through the frame.

Lecuona, feeling particularly trigger-happy on the left flank, aimed for the top right corner of goal from just inside the boundary, but her ball in the 31st minute went just over the goal. Woodall had nonchalantly denied her from roughly the same spot six minutes into the match.

Another junior, Kayla Veloso-Lima, helped generate one of the Colonials’ best chances of the day in the 16th minute. The midfielder dribbled into the box and got the Jaguars’ back line to open up, but her attempt from the upper right corner was blocked. The ball deflected to fellow third-year Sheridan Reid, who fired into the stomach of a well-positioned Woodall.

“I think we’re playing quicker, and playing more as a team,” said Leucona, regarding her team’s form since last Thursday’s extra-time win at Wright State. “We’re more like a family. Everyone plays together, and everyone communicates now.”

RMU survived a scare when All-Horizon League midfielder Kaoru Hayashi was shaken up just beyond the center stripe in the 38th minute. Hayashi missed only three minutes of action with her apparent upper-body injury and free substitute Sofie Fagereng in her stead, making her the only member of Shaw’s starting XI not to play the entire contest.

“They battled for all 110 minutes. I’ve got a lot of respect for the way those players played today,” Shaw said.

Robert Morris realized it was in a battle when sophomore defender Jessica Jacobs sparked IUPUI by getting involved in its attack. In the 68th minute, she fired a ball from distance that an airborne Bohlen punched out before Allie Ball, with her back to the play, cleared it frantically off the line.

Bohlen earned her second clean sheet of the season, and the University of Hartford transplant limited the high-danger opportunities for the Jaguars while recording six saves. The Orlando-born keeper has now registered at least half a dozen in four straight games, while raising her personal record to 4-4-3.

“She played really well,” said Leucona. “It’s just about playing out of the back, and playing quickly, then drawing all of IUPUI’s girls to one player and having more space and time to carry [the ball].”

Chelsea Kingston drew everyone to the edge of his or her seat with six minutes left in regulation, forcing Woodall to force OT. Mirroring Bohlen at the other end, she went straight up to deny RMU’s senior midfielder, who had outmaneuvered her defender atop the box and tried to go top shelf.

A fascinating battle between Lecuona and decorated defender Autumn Weeks saw the former draw a yellow card against the IUPUI junior in the 62nd minute. Lecuona went after her and looked to hook up with Reid for a decisive goal six minutes into the first extra period, but Woodall was more than ready when she came off her line.

The Colonials visit Cleveland State Saturday at 1:00 p.m. on ESPN+ before their home, conference and season finale next Wednesday, Oct. 26, against Youngstown State at 2:00.

This Robert Morris team, which sits four points out of a Horizon League playoff spot as of publication, is one that is learning how to win. This begins with developing the mindset that winning is possible.

Nearing the end of his first full season in charge, Shaw is beginning to see that metamorphosis take place.

“I think confidence is a big part. This is a team that, over the last many years, has not won a lot, and going into the Horizon made that even tougher. I think this was a game that, earlier this year, or last year, we would have found a way to lose it,” Shaw said.

“Now they’re starting to get a bit more self-belief, no matter who we’re stepping up against, that we can play. We know we can play.”

Riverhounds MF Danny Griffin

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