As Thursday afternoon’s season-opening contest between the Duquesne Women’s Soccer Team and Ohio reached the 54th minute, Bobcats player Isabella Ginocchi fired a hard shot on goal at point-blank range on Dukes goalkeeper Maddy Neundorfer, with the latter making a diving stop, to preserve a tie.
As Neundorfer got back to her feet, the save activated the Duquesne bench and the crowd followed that cue.
“We needed a save like that to readjust and refocus ourselves,” senior captain Sarah Wilkinson said. “We were still tied 1-1 but we wanted a win to start our regular season. She comes up really big for us a lot.”
As he watched from the sidelines, Duquesne coach Al Alvine saw it as another example of how special a keeper Neundorfer is. Though she was previously behind Megan Virgin on the depth chart, saves such as this show the 11th-year coach why this is her opportunity to succeed.
The game would remain tied until 10 minutes later when freshman forward Maya Matesa scored in her first collegiate match, a goal which proved to be the game-winning tally.
“Through preseason she’s really stood out as one of the strongest players from an attacking standpoint,” said Alvine. “Just so strong, so fast and a handful to deal with. You saw when she gets opportunities she can finish.”
Duquesne’s season-opening victory at Rooney Field came with the Dukes trailing an Ohio team that was selected as the preseason favorite to win the MAC, a conference Alvine believes is very comparable to the Atlantic 10 from a depth perspective.
“I thought it was a great game and a great effort,” Wilkinson said. “We went down 1-0 and regrouped at halftime. We went back to basics and put together a great 90 minutes of soccer. It’s a testament to the two-and-a-half weeks of practice we had. We had 19 new people come in, young, giving us a fresh face and a great group of core returners. It was a great start to the season.”
The Ohio tally was scored by Carsyn Prigge in the 19th minute, on a shot which deflected off a post and into the back of the net.
Alvine credited the goal coming from one of Duquesne’s several first-half turnovers, as the defense searched for continuity in the early stages of the match.
The defense had to overcome a combination of nerves and a large incoming class, many of whom were competing in their first official collegiate contest.
This combined with what Alvine opined were too many touches in the middle third of the field, saw too much dwelling on the ball.
At halftime, Wilkinson explained that the initial plan was to play more of a low block but the starting 11 made the determination that this was not its identity and instead opted for more of a high press.
“The key was recognizing those moments when we could come out and pressure,” Alvine further explained. “It was visual cues, backwards passes, a bad first touch where we could step in and if not win the ball outright, at least make the play predictable. The kids did a good job of forcing them to play in areas they didn’t want to play in. That was by design and the kids executed it well.”
For all of Wilkinson’s accomplishments one notable feat was missing, a goal. She corrected that in the 48th minute, knocking in a ball after fighting for position. She was quickly embraced by her teammates, holding a fist in the air the entire time. Both Jaimi Araujo and Libby Majka tallied assists.
Matesa would score the game winner and was assisted by fellow freshmen Mackenzie Muir and Brianna Moore.
In total, Duquesne welcomed 19 new faces this season, with eight true freshmen seeing the field and Wilkinson believed they have raised the program’s competitive levels.
Each has arrived bringing what was learned from the outside, made adjustments based on style of play, making it their own. When a player is brought into the game, they play the position different than their predecessor but have found ways within the system to achieve efficiency.
“Coming in with knowing that you have 18 other people in your class, you know you have to compete for a spot, and we have returners who have been starting and playing for years,” she said. “All of the newcomers have known that and really put in an effort to up the compete level. We needed that and I think I even needed that. I needed younger people to be pushing me to be a better soccer player and figure out how I can improve myself. They’ve significantly upped the compete level of practices and the program itself.”
From an injury standpoint, Emma Bundy did not dress for this game. Alvine called her “close” to game action and did elaborate to the point of the injury being “nothing serious”.
Ashley Rodriguez, who missed the team’s home exhibition contest against Kent State played the full 90 minutes against Ohio, returning to the field following an illness and a shortened spring season.
Duquesne will look continue its winning ways with a road contest at Penn State Sunday at 1 p.m.