Where they have been so far this season:
The Case Western Reserve University women’s soccer team, riding a two game winning streak, has reached the midpoint of its season with a 5-2-2 record.
After opening with a strong 3-0 win versus a Heidelberg University team that was allowed just two shots, the Spartans forced a 1-1 double overtime draw with the then No. 12 nationally ranked Polar Bears of Ohio Northern University. In that matchup, the Spartans showed their ability to come on strong in the second half, evening up the score early in the second half with a well-placed shot from the foot of emerging threat Jessie Sabers.
After a win against a strong Denison squad, the Spartans hit a 1-2-1 stretch, before hitting their stride with two solid wins against Capital University and cross-town rival John Carroll University.
The Violets of New York University, fielding a women’s soccer roster that consists of most of the same pieces that led the team to a 7-2-0 start in 2011, have followed the same trend as last year, winning six of their first eight games leading up to their first University Athletic Association matchup with the Spartans.
After losing a close match to nationally ranked Stevens Institute of Technology, the Violets participated in the Stevens Engineering Cup, beating eventual tournament champion Kean University before dropping a thrilling 3-4 match against Ursinus College. NYU was able to come back from a 4-1 deficit to pull within one before time ran out.
Since their second defeat, the Violets have had an easy path to UAA play, easily defeating opponents by such margins as 10-3 against the College of Staten Island.
Scouting the teams:
Home field advantage seems to be a somewhat foreign concept to the Spartans so far this season. When playing away from the friendly confines of Case Field, the Spartans are a stellar 5-0-1. In these matches, Case has outscored its opponents 13-3. In fact, the Spartans’ only draw playing away from home came at ONU.
On the flip side, the Spartans have started out slowly at home, having yet to win with just a 0-2-1 record. The upcoming UAA match is sure to have a different flavor of play than the past home games, so look for past play at home to have little effect on the outcome of Saturday’s match.
The Violets score early and they score often. In six out of eight games, the Violets have scored three or more goals and in all but one of their wins, they were the first team to put the ball in the back of the net. The only two teams to beat the Violets were the only ones to score first and hold onto their lead.
In their matchups against Stevens and Ursinus, their only losses, NYU found themselves in a hole early, down in each match 2-0 less than 30 minutes into the game. Each of those games resulted in comebacks that fell short, 3-2 and 4-3, respectively.
Players to Watch:
Levey Sisters – Deena and Leah
A little bit of sisterly rivalry might turn out to be a boon for the Spartans this season. Junior midfielder Leah Levey offered up her breakout performance of the year this past Saturday with two goals in quick succession against Capital University. The two identical goals to the left corner were enough to lift the Spartans to their fourth win of the season.
Not to be outdone by her sister, senior Deena Levey turned up the intensity in the Spartans’ next match, playing perfect balls to Sabers and senior defender Maeve Goede, which each turned into Spartan goals. For insurance, Deena Levey added a goal of her own to seal the game. The question for NYU will be: which Levey do they try to shut down? Because right now it seems that neither is a viable option.
On the defensive side of the ball, look for newcomer right defensive back Kate Dolansky to use her previous experience at center mid to work well with the Levey sisters. “Kate is a dynamic player, who is developing well after switching from center mid,” said head coach Tiffany Crooks. “Her physical presence on the defensive side of the ball helps us lock down our side of the field.”
Serra Tumay –
Arguably NYU’s most dangerous threat, Serra Tumay recently became the Violet’s career points leader. The senior captain surpassed the NYU mark of 63 career points six games into the season and shows no signs of slowing down. Interestingly, Tumay is perhaps more dangerous one pass away from the goal rather than right in front of it. She had an assist in three of her first four games, while adding two in her record breaking performance against Farmingdale State College.
Melissa Menta –
The freshman to watch on this Violets team, Melissa Menta has quickly developed a feel for the back of the net, scoring five times in the team’s first four games. Not only is Menta leading the team with seven goals, she is also pacing the Violets in assists, with six. Despite matching up relatively smaller than many of her fellow forwards at 5’4”, Menta has quickly established a big presence in the front of the goal, one that Spartan defenders will surely try to mitigate come Saturday.
Cami Crawford –
To make things more difficult for opposing defenders, the third piece of the Violet offence is Cami Crawford, who is currently NYU’s second leading point scorer. While only recording 12 shots this year, Crawford has made the most of her opportunities, connecting on an amazing 58.3 percent of her shots.
Tiffany Crooks –
Tiffany Crooks is attempting to lead the Spartans back to the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row. After getting her start at Xavier University and College of Wooster, she came to Case at the urging of a former Case head coach and has since led the team to multiple firsts, including its first NCAA tournament appearance and its first Div. III All-American.
Michele Canning –
Michele Canning has already had a big effect on the NYU women’s soccer program in her second year as head coach. In her first season with the Violets, Canning conducted an offense that scored eight more goals than any previous season, and finished fourth in the UAA, one of the most competitive women’s soccer conferences in the country.
Leading the attack for the Spartans is the trio of junior Rachel Bourque, sophomore Jessie Sabers and sophomore Christine Straka. What makes this group so effective?
“On the attacking side of the ball, most teams have two tactical players, players who can create scoring opportunities and make good decisions,” says student coach and All-American midfielder Kendra Simmons. “This year, you have to worry about not just two tactical players, but three.”
The Spartans play a 4-3-3 style which, with strong, smart play from the midfield, lets this trio of forwards to get out wide, allowing for crosses into the center. Although the Spartans played a similar style last year, this year’s team is more offensively focused.
In particular, the Spartans are focused more this year on putting the ball on the ground and driving at opponents, according to Crooks.
Anchored by two All-UAA candidates in Deena and Leah Levey, Case’s system runs through the midfield. Balls played up from the backs are settled and distributed by the Case midfielders to the forwards, who then look towards the goal. By getting multiple touches every game, the midfielders get a chance to create opportunities for themselves as well.
Unfortunately, Case lost another key piece of its midfield when senior Devyn “Devo” Lee went down for the season with a torn ACL. Lee was a key figure on both sides of the ball for set pieces, such as free kicks and corner kicks. Graduate student Alex Litofsky will pick up extra minutes with the absence of Lee.
Anchoring the backline for the Spartans is senior captain Goede. Leading a backline filled with new faces, Goede has helped the Spartans not just on the field but off the field as well.
“Maeve has been so supportive helping [the backline],” says Dolansky. “She gives our line experience, as well as support, yet she knows when to be hard on us as well.” By having an anchor, the defense will be able to learn and gain the experience and trust that make for tough back lines.
Helping not only the defense, but the rest of the team as well, is the depth the Spartans have coming off of the bench. Because there are so many talented women on the bench, Case is able to constantly put in fresh legs to keep up the pace and pressure.
With the trio of Tumay, Crawford, and Menta, NYU is looking to make this opening UAA match a show of fireworks from both sides. Throughout the first eight games, the Violets have bombarded the back of the net, taking 174 shots and scoring 35 times.
Just when the Spartans have become a more offensive team, it figures that Violets do just the same. “NYU has always matched up well with [Case],” explains Simmons. “They counter our strengths well and are always very competitive.”
The Violets also line up in the 4-3-3 style, which will promote interesting one-on-one battles between the individual players. Specifically, for Case’s relatively young back line, the objective will be to contain the speed and goal-scoring ability of NYU’s Menta.
NYU continues the offensive-mindedness even in the midfield with Erin Ahmed, the fourth leading goal scorer on the team. Ahmed led the Violets with two goals in their game against Farmingdale State to secure a 3-1 NYU victory. Look for Ahmed to use her physicality to control the center of the field.
Such a commitment to goal-scoring presents an opportunity for the Spartans, however. In most of its games, Case has won the ball-control battle, holding onto possession of the ball for significantly longer than its opponents. If the Spartans are able to limit the number of possessions the Violets get, the Spartans will accordingly decrease the Violets’ scoring chances.
Starting at defensive back for the Violets are Mary Clair, Phebe Miller, Monica Arnold, and Madeline Clappin. Through eight games, the Violets have let in 13 goals. In losses, the Violet defense let up seven goals, while conceding only six in their six wins.
While seven goals may seem high in just two games, NYU never allowed more than nine shots a game. The matchup against the Spartan offense will provide a tough challenge for the Violets, as the only ranked opponent NYU has faced scored three goals, leading to an NYU loss.
Case 3-2 NYU
When two high-powered offenses come together, one can expect a high-scoring affair. One can also expect a close, physical game from teams each hoping to open its UAA schedule with an impressive win against a rival. Looking at past results between these two teams, I am going to take the Spartans in a 3-2 victory over the Violets.
The keys for the Spartans will have to be minimizing the number of set pieces they give the Violets.
“In the women’s game, set pieces are especially dangerous,” says Crooks. “If we can minimize the risk we will have a much better chance of coming out on top.”
With the Spartans already controlling the ball more than their opponents, eliminating easy, direct opportunities for the Violets to score could be just enough to come out on top.