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The Collegian

The Student News Site of Ashland University

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Ashland University

The Collegian

Onto the championship: AU women’s soccer takes down Cedarville, 3-0

The Eagles look for three straight conference championships
Ben Nichols
Eagle forward Dani Hicks entered the semi-final round with nine goals and six assists on the 2023-24 season, securing her a spot on the GMAC All-Conference First Team.

The Ashland University women’s soccer team has remained undefeated through 20 games in the 2023-24 season as they advance to the Great Midwest Athletic Conference (GMAC) Tournament Championship.

On Thursday, Nov. 9, the Eagles traveled to Midland, Mich., to take on the Cedarville Yellow Jackets in the team’s first neutral-sited contest of the season. When the two teams met, the tensions of the rivalry remained high, but it was ultimately the Eagles who came out on top with stifling defense and overbearing offense.

“I was really pleased with how today’s match went,” said Head Coach Cayleb Paulino. “Playing against a familiar opponent in Cedarville, a program we have a lot of respect for, we knew we were going to have to play some of our best all year in order to advance.”

Fortunately for Paulino and the Eagles, the play would be some of the team’s best of the year.

Straight off the rip, the offense pushed the ball down the field, putting immediate pressure on Yellow Jackets goalkeeper Brooke Ackley.

Just three minutes into the game, the Eagles would catch the Yellow Jackets defense off guard, as forward Dani Hicks played a ball back post to midfielder Peyton Starner. She would settle the ball down and cleanly shoot the ball into the back netting for the opening goal of the outing.

For Hicks, the assist would be her team-high seventh of the campaign.

The shock of the goal was evident on the Yellow Jackets bench, as Head Coach Jonathan Meade instantly went into recovery mode to try to keep his team level-headed.

With the Yellow Jackets down a goal with 87 minutes of gametime still available, they quickly settled down and attempted to storm back into the contest. They ramped up play in the midfield, and attempted to force the Eagles to make mistakes.

As the first half went on, majority of the action between the two sides was held in the midfield as neither team was truly able to establish much rhythm. Alongside the possession switching, play would be halted often by throw-ins, limiting the flow of the contest to formulate.

Through the remainder of the first half, just six shots would be taken, with the Yellow Jackets finishing with two and the Eagles with five. Both of the Yellow Jackets shots would be on goal, but all came well outside of the box, showing little signs of threat for Eagle goalkeeper Maddie Dolenga.

“I thought defensively as a group we made things very difficult for Cedarville.  We were able to contain their attack and limit their chances,” said Paulino.

Heading into the halftime break, the Eagles led 1-0 behind the early goal from Hicks to Starner.

In the second half of play, the Yellow Jackets needed to put together key offensive attacks, but unfortunately for them, that would not be the case.

The Eagles did not miss a step and just nine minutes into the second half freshman midfielder Ella Schneider found her third goal of the season. The offense, led by forward McKinley Mendenhall, bolted down the field and from the left side of the box Mendenhall sent a perfect cross to the foot of Schneider who drilled it into the bottom left corner of the goal.

The goal would push the Eagles’ lead to two with an appearance in the GMAC Championship on the line.

However, the Eagles were not done just yet. Just seven minutes after the second goal was scored, the third would be found.

In the 61st minute, Eagle forward Tori Haggit would slice and dice her way past the Yellow Jackets defense before being tripped up inside the box. The head referee would call a foul, issuing a penalty kick for the Eagles.

Haggit would do the honors, and with ease, she placed the ball cleanly into the bottom left corner as Ackley had no chance of making the save.

With a comfortable 3-0 lead, the Eagles coasted to a clean sheet victory as Paulino unloaded his bench to give more time to underclassmen and rotational pieces. The substitutes would be able to hold off the Yellow Jackets for the remaining 29 minutes of action, pushing the team to a victory.

The win for the Eagles moves the team’s record to 17-0-3, while also recording the 16th clean sheet of the season. Through 20 games, they have now scored 50 goals and allowed just four.

“Offensively, things have really been coming together for us as a group,” said Paulino. “We continue to move players around throughout the line up in different roles and players are stepping up to the opportunity.”

The Eagles will take on the Northwood University Timberwolves at Dean Soccer Field in Midland, Mich., with kickoff set for 12:00 P.M. for the GMAC Championship on Saturday, Nov. 11.

“The goal like every week for us is to go 2-0.  Now the environment for our second game is just a little bit different.  Northwood finished the regular season winning the conference,” said Paulino. “We are exciting for the opportunity to be back in the conference tournament championship.  We will enjoy this one and start preparing tomorrow [Friday] for our opponent on Saturday.”

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