LEXINGTON, Va. – Kaitlyn Eckert had three points, including her third goal of the year, helping the UNC Asheville Bulldogs to a 3-1 win over the VMI Keydets in Big South women’s soccer action Thursday afternoon at Patchin Field in Lexington. The match was the conference opener for both schools.
After Asheville (2-8, 1-0 Big South) took an 1-0 advantage into halftime, Eckert scored on a header at 57:24, her third goal of the year, to push the advantage to two. After a Sarah Strand goal cut the deficit in half, Eckert then possessed the ball on a run down the middle of the field. She found teammate Ferriss Roberts open on a cross, and Roberts put home the insurance goal that would account for the final margin, 3-1.
The Bulldogs fired 20 second-half shots at VMI, helping account for a 35-19 edge in shot attempts, and also saw freshman keeper Heather Muller stop eight shots in the win. Amanda Berrios made nine saves for VMI (3-5-1, 0-1).
On a beautiful day, with temperatures in the mid-70’s and only high clouds, the opening portions of the match saw both teams struggle to put shots on frame. In fact, the opening 7:43 saw just one shot on goal, an Asheville try that was saved by Berrios.
VMI’s Myranda Emery had a chance from 18 yards out, coming at 18:06, but fired high, and the next shot on goal did not come until the 22nd minute. That was when Berrios smothered another Bulldog effort, and that scenario repeated itself some three minutes later.
In the 28th minute, however, the visitors turned up the offensive pace. Eckert misfired on a shot wide right, and Asheville’s Amanda Knapp tested Berrios twice, forcing two saves by the VMI keeper. Off the second save, coming at 32:03, Asheville got the ball back just inside the VMI zone, and Amanda Dailor sent a cross toward the Keydet net. The ball arched over the hands of Berrios, but was kicked into the net by a Keydet defender, resulting in an own goal that gave the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead.
VMI tested Muller once more in the first half, as a Liz Affronti try in the 38th minute was turned aside, allowing the match to go to halftime with Asheville up,1-0. The first period saw the visitors hold a 15-5 edge in shots, but six saves by Berrios kept the deficit at a single goal.
The teams alternated quick exchanges of possession to start the second half, with Berrios stopping two Asheville shots in the 47th minute, and Muller turning Affronti aside in the 50th. The 57th minute saw the Bulldogs put a header shot high, but on the resulting possession change, VMI was whistled for a foul. That led to a free kick, and off that play, Frances Staelin found Eckert for the header goal that extended Asheville’s lead to 2-0.
The Keydets came right back at 60:52, as Christelle Ndongo made a deep run into Asheville territory, maneuvering around several defenders. The ball was tipped away briefly, but after a few moments, ended up at the feet of teammate Strand at the top of the box. She blasted a left-footed shot by Muller for her career-high fifth goal of the season, cutting the deficit to 2-1.
The momentum seemed to have shifted to VMI, but just that quickly, it swung back again. Asheville’s next possession saw Eckert create the opportunity for Roberts off a cross, and at 61:21, Roberts put the ball by Berrios to account for the eventual final margin, 3-1.
All told, the two teams combined for three goals in less than four minutes, and it appeared as if that streak might continue moments later. VMI tried to counterattack, and drew a foul deep in the box that resulted in a penalty kick. It was the first PK try for the Keydet women at Patchin Field since Sept. 6, 2008 against Campbell, and Affronti stepped up to take it, but hit the ball off the bottom of the crossbar. That allowed Muller to play it and the chance went for naught.
After the missed penalty kick, the Keydets continued to keep the pressure on Muller, putting four shots on net the remainder of the way. The Asheville keeper stopped them all, however, helping her team prevail in the conference opener.
“This was certainly not our best effort,” said VMI head coach Bryan Williams. “I thought Simone Jimenez played notably well, as she ended up playing three different positions, but as a whole, today’s game showed our youth and inexperience. I hope that the meaning of conference is now engrained on our players’ minds, so that they meet the challenge of these next nine games head-on, and with the effort and hard work that they showed on the field today. Give UNC Asheville a lot of credit, as they were able to create chances for themselves offensively, and they scored off those opportunities.”
In addition to the 35-19 edge in shots, Asheville also held a 7-2 edge in corner kicks. The Bulldogs’ Knapp took nine shots to pace her team, while Sarah Putney and Emery had five attempts apiece for VMI.
VMI will return to action Saturday, playing host to the Presbyterian College Blue Hose in a Big South matchup. Game time is set for 2 p.m.