The defense was there, as it usually is, for the UW-La Crosse women’s soccer team. The Eagles offense just needed to find a way to break through.
A tactical change at halftime freed up space in the midfield, and junior Margaret Harings found junior Natalie Herzog on the left side, and Herzog blasted a left-footed shot past the St. Thomas keeper for the only goal in a 1-0 UW-L victory over the Tommies in an NCAA second-round game Sunday afternoon in front of about 250 fans at the Veterans Memorial Field Sports Complex.
The Eagles (19-1-3) advance to the round of 16 to face Washington University (Mo.) in the third round next weekend. It will be played Friday at the University of Chicago, but a start time has not yet been announced.
Herzog said that as the pass was en route from Harings, she tried to keep the composure necessary to make the most of the goal scoring chance.
“I was super focused on my first touch, and I wanted it to go in the right direction,” said Herzog, who scored her third goal of the season. “I’m so thankful that it did. Margaret made the perfect pass, and my first touch brought it right to my left foot, and I was able to hit it to the right side of the net.”
Harings, the WIAC offensive player of the year, wasn’t able to free herself to help create opportunities in the first half, so UW-L coach Jason Murphy added in an additional defensive midfielder to allow Harings to work her magic on offense.
“We made a tactical change at halftime that allowed us to shore up the midfield a bit, and that helped us create some chances,” Murphy said of the decision to bring in freshman Katie Feller alongside all-conference WIAC defensive player of the year Maya Schmitt. “We felt that by dropping another kid in there we could really exploit the midfield. We were able to get Margaret free a little bit, and Maya didn’t have to work so hard to do the same work.”
Harings received a pass, made a picture-perfect turn on the goal, and set up the only goal UW-L would need.
“Those are two kids that we rely a lot on,” Murphy said of Herzog and Harings. “I was really happy with Margaret’s play in the first half when she was outnumbered, but in the second half she really got going and she’s tough to deal with.”
When the Eagles scored in the 58th minute, that meant UW-L had over 30 minutes of lockdown defense that needed to be played.
“A lot of adrenaline rushing through your body,” Schmitt said of the last 30 minutes. “(The strategy is to) basically to clear it out, but clear it out with a purpose. Obviously we want to get it out of our defensive half, but we needed to direct it out in a certain way where we could build off of it.”
The win for the Eagles is only the second NCAA tournament win in program history, as the first came Saturday in an opening round 2-0 win vs. St. Scholastica. UW-L put in a bid to host the next rounds as well, but will have to wait for the official announcement from the NCAA.
“The next week is just business as usual,” said Murphy. “We have to understand that it’s going to be a little bit chillier for training and we’re probably going to go on the road, but we’re just excited about having another opportunity to play.”