The No. 22 Women of Troy kicked off the NCAA tournament with a 3-1 win over No. 13 Illinois on Friday afternoon.
“I’m happy to get the ‘W,’” said USC coach Ali Khosroshahin. “I’m happy to get the first game in and have it go our way.”
A slow start did not hurt the Women of Troy this time, though it has earlier in the season. Instead, they were the ones who managed to put their opponents on their heels.
“I thought the first 15 minutes, Illinois had the ball most of the time,” Khosroshahin said. “But at the halfway mark, we were able to make some changes, we settled in and started to do some good things.”
When junior forward/defender Ashley Freyer entered the game, she made an immediate impact, scoring off a perfectly placed pass over the Illini backline from junior midfielder Brittany Kerridge.
This was the junior’s first goal of her career in the NCAA tournament, and it gave the Women of Troy a 1-0 lead that would hold up until halftime.
In the beginning of the second half, the Women of Troy had multiple opportunities to score again but couldn’t find the back of the net.
In the 56th minute, the Women of Troy were awarded a free kick from just beyond midfield.
Redshirt junior midfielder/defender Ashli Sandoval drilled a shot the Illini goalkeeper was able to get a hand on, but not enough to prevent it from crossing the plane. This goal gave the Women of Troy a 2-0 lead.
Though the Illini threatened to score and had plenty of opportunities to cut into the lead, the play of the USC backline and freshman goalkeeper Shelby Church was solid.
“I was very pleased with our backline,” Khosroshahin said. “I thought Karter [Haug] and Mia [Bruno] were solid as were Claire [Schloemer], [Ashli] Sandoval and Shelby [Church]. [Our defense] has been our backbone all year and they were again.”
In the 74th minute, sophomore midfielder Courtney Garcia fed sophomore forward Samantha Johnson, who completed the scoring and gave the Women of Troy their highest output in goals during a NCAA tournament match.
Leading 3-0, the Women of Troy conceded a goal in the 80th minute, but the Illini would get no closer.
On Sunday, the Women of Troy couldn’t get past the No. 7 Notre Dame Fighting Irish as they fell 4-0 in the second round of the tournament, putting an end to a solid season for USC.
“We just didn’t play our best game,” said senior defender Karter Haug. “Notre Dame came out and they played [well]. They put the ball in the goal and had a couple good bounces go their way.”
The Fighting Irish struck early on goals by midfielder Rose Augustin and defender/midfielder Lauren Fowlkes in the first eight minutes of the game to take a commanding 2-0 lead.
“Anytime you spot a team of that caliber two goals early on, it’s a really difficult hill [to climb] and a really difficult hole to climb out of,” Khosroshahin said.
The Women of Troy had multiple opportunities to respond and cut into the lead, but shots went high, wide or were stopped by the Notre Dame goalkeeper.
At halftime, the Women of Troy came out aggressive, putting pressure on the Notre Dame backline and goalkeeper, but still no shots were able to find the back of the net.
“They were able to finish their opportunities and we weren’t,” Khosroshahin said.
Meanwhile, the Fighting Irish added to their lead on a goal by forward Melissa Henderson in the 57th minute, while forward Adriana Leon finished off the scoring in the 70th minute to give the Fighting Irish a 4-0 victory.
Despite the loss, the coaching staff said it couldn’t be more pleased with the players, specifically the leadership of the seniors and the development of the team as a whole.
“The seniors this year really led this team and they’ve led them from the beginning,” Khosroshahin said. “They did a tremendous job and I’m so proud of them, but so sad to see these young ladies leave me. This team has grown tremendously, they’ve matured tremendously and I couldn’t be more proud.”