CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Charlotte head women’s soccer coach John Cullen celebrated career victory No. 200, as the 49ers opened the 2017 home calendar with a 1-0 triumph over in-state foe UNC Greensboro Monday night at Transamerica Field.
The contest, the first back at the field for the Niners since they captured the 2016 Conference USA Championships title on it last November, was played in front of the second-largest crowd in the venue’s 22-year history with 1,212 spectators witnessing the win.
Cullen, who became the program’s all-time leader in victories back in 2014, earned his 87th in charge of the green and white in his ninth season. His other 113 wins came during his tenure at nearby Catawba prior to returning to his alma mater in 2009.
“It’s important to get that win,” Cullen said, referring to the team triumph. “When you start the season 0-1, you look for that win as quickly as you can get it. We knew the importance of the game tonight. We certainly didn’t want to slip to 0-2.”
It also marked the first career shutout for freshman goalkeeper Abby Stapleton, as she collected four saves in the clean sheets.
Charlotte (1-1) provided the scoring difference in a dominating first half, in which it out-shot the Spartans 14-to-0 and limited the visitors from any real offensive threats. Six different players were credited with attempts, led by a half-dozen from the lone goal scorer, Martha Thomas.
Thomas, the Preseason Conference USA Player of the Year, located the back of the net in the eighth minute, at 7:20, following a give-and-go with fellow senior Virginia Lingo. After she passed the ball to Lingo, she made a darting run towards the net. Lingo sent a chipping pass over the heads of UNC Greensboro (0-2) defenders, landing it perfectly at Thomas’ feet, as she buried it behind netminder Aiyanah Tyler-Cooper for her first score of the campaign.
Thomas’ goal marked No. 35 in her career, inching her to within four of matching the school’s all-time record. It also moved her career point total to 90, tying Christina Papp (1996-98) for fourth on the all-time list just 14 points shy of the career standard. It also was career game-winning goal No. 10, making her only the third player in program history to reach double digits in the category.
“We came out well and played some great stuff in the first half. We felt like we should have really put the game away in the first half. I was really pleased with the way we played in the first half.”
In the second half, the Spartans made more of an effort offensively, out-shooting the Niners 7-to-5, but Stapleton and the defense in front of her held firm. Hannah Hoeksema led the UNCG charge with two shots.
“We started to tire a little bit in the second half. I think the game we played Friday night at USF, in overtime, took a bit of a toll on us. We misplayed some passes and were a bit loose in possession. But, we gritted it out and it was a great reaction to losing a heartbreaker last Friday.
Thomas placed four of her six attempts on goal, while Lingo added four shots. Sophomore Megan Greene, who tallied both Charlotte scores in the opener at USF Friday, finished with two as did senior Kyla Clark.
The 49ers came close to establishing a new program record for a home crowd, as Monday’s spectators were the most since South Carolina visited Sept. 7, 2015, with 1087 in attendance. The Transamerica Field women’s record stands at 1258 against High Point Sept. 23, 2011.
“To come out and win our home opener, with a clean sheet, and a great turn out by the crowd. We’re really happy.”
Charlotte will resume its season at 7 p.m. Friday when it plays host to SEC foe Georgia in the first meeting between the two sides since 2009 when the Bulldogs were ranked No. 15 nationally.