The Occidental women’s soccer team secured a 1-0 victory over La Verne on Saturday, keeping the Tigers in the hunt for the SCIAC championship and giving the seniors a win in the final home game of their careers.
“Up until today, six of the eight teams were in contention for postseason play, so there are good teams across the spectrum, and it comes down to what we can do on a daily basis to be better,” head coach Colm McFeely said.
The Tigers lost to La Verne earlier in the season, but have been on a hot streak as of late, earning victories over Pomona-Pitzer and first-place Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (CMS) in their previous two games.
Despite their recent success, it took the Tigers some time to find their rhythm against a very physical La Verne team.
The Leopards controlled the game early on, driving the ball into Occidental territory with relative ease. The Tiger defense, led by Taryn Ng (senior), weathered the storm and was able to secure a few steals and force changes of possession in the midfield.
Occidental goalie Dallas Gunny (first-year) had the first of her many saves during an initial La Verne barrage 18 minutes into the contest, blocking an attempted header from close range.
“It wasn’t our best performance, but we pulled through and put together a really good team effort,” Ng said.
Despite an injury early in the game, defender Abigail Mitchell (senior) executed an impressive steal as the first half wound down.
“Yeah, I was hurting,” Mitchell said with a laugh. “But I just tried to play for my teammates, for our last home game and to stay strong for the team.”
The steal ignited a noticeable shift in Occidental’s play, especially on defense. Defender Samantha Morrill (sophomore) secured another steal with a well-timed slide tackle, and Gunny made her third save of the day right before the half ended.
Midfielder Kylie Takafuji (sophomore) was the only Tiger to take a shot in the first half, with all three of her attempts blocked by the La Verne goalkeeper. As the second half began, forwards Camille Shrager (first-year), Julie Khil (sophomore) and Michaela Tsuha (junior) all had shots on goal in the first 15 minutes. Despite their increase in tempo, the Tiger offense still failed to connect.
The defense continued to shine, however, as defender Dana Lim (first-year) stole the ball in 60th minute and passed the ball to midfielder Katie McDonald (senior). McDonald’s evasive maneuvers led to an Occidental corner kick, which allowed Takafuji another shooting opportunity.
“I think our defense has always been pretty good physically and skill-wise, so we knew what to expect from ourselves,” Ng said.
As the La Verne defense began to tire, Occidental’s offense took advantage of shooting opportunities.
As she drove toward the goal, Tsuha was illegally slide tackled in the box by a La Verne defender, drawing a yellow card and a penalty kick. La Verne goalie Delanie Pacheco misjudged Tsuha’s shot, which flew past her on the right as she moved to block left. The goal put Occidental up 1-0 with 26 minutes left on the clock.
“There was a lot of pressure, but I just had to take a deep breath and trust my coaching,” Tsuha said. “It felt really good to score that goal and get the lead for the team.”
With the lead secured, the Tigers continued to put pressure on the La Verne defense with shots from Shrager and Mitchell. The Leopard offense came up short in its efforts to even the score, thanks to the stifling Occidental defense, which held strong the few times La Verne brought the ball into their territory late in the game. La Verne pulled their goalie and went for a final long shot on the Occidental goal, but came up short.
“La Verne are a nuggety, tough team, very physical,” McFeely said. “But we kept going and ended up getting that goal. It would have been nice to have another [goal] to take the pressure off, but given the run we’re on, the character and determination of these girls, I’m just happy they’re happy and that they’re getting the results that reflect the effort they give.”
The Tigers only need one more win to secure their spot among the top four, but a loss or a tie in their remaining contests against Cal Lutheran and Redlands could hinder their hopes for a SCIAC championship.
The Tigers take on Cal Lutheran away on Wednesday night at 7 p.m.