WILLIAMSBURG, Va. – Coming off of a pair of shutout losses, UNCG got a much needed result Sunday afternoon, posting a clean sheet of its own and using a Quiqui Hita (Phoenix, Ariz./Xavier College Prep) tally to earn a 1-0 victory over the Tribe of William & Mary at Martin Family Stadium.
“This game today was our first complete, 90-minute solid performance all season,” said head coach Michael Coll. “We’ve had halves and three-quarter good performances but this was a solid performance from the first kick to the last.”
The game-winning moment for the Spartans came, in all honesty, largely against the run of play in the second half. The chance started with an Ashton Duty (Waxhaw, N.C./Cuthbertson) corner, with the Tribe clearance attempt failing to reach further than the top of the 18-yard box. Emily Jensen (Nelson, New Zealand/Santa Clara) helped the ball along to the middle of the box and Hita used the outside of her right foot to slot the ball into the lower right corner in the 60th minute.
William & Mary ended up racking up a 19-5 advantage in total shots, including a 14-1 run in the second 45 minutes. The Tribe also earned five corner kicks, compared to two for UNCG. However, whenever the Tribe threatened the Spartan goal, Aiyanah Tyler-Cooper (Charlottesville, Va./Albemarle) was quick to come off of her line and snuff out the opportunity, registering her second collegiate clean sheet.
“Aiyanah was very secure today,“ said Coll. “She pretty much owned her 18-yard box. She came and snuffed out a few quarter chances from them on through balls and things and she came out and caught a couple high crosses to relieve the back line. It was a very good performance for her. It was very clearly her best performance of the season in my opinion.”
With the Tribe thrusting the action into the Spartan defensive third, the UNCG back line was put under a lot of pressure to perform. The foursome of Duty, Marissa Ferrantino (Woodbridge, Va./Osbourn Park), Jensen and Maddie Hoffman (Raleigh, N.C./Leesville Road) were solid as a rock, playing every second of the 90 minutes.
Both teams used the opening half to feel one another out, with methodical play being the key throughout the first 45 minutes. Neither side provided too much of a threat to the opposing team’s goal, though the best chance of the half quite possibly came off the foot of Virginia native Ferrantino. The perennially steady defender isn’t typically known for her offensive play but Ferrantino found herself in a good bit of space from the left-hand corner of the 18-yard box and curled in a ball that was bending toward the right corner of the goal but sailed just high over the crossbar.
Outside of that moment of near brilliance, both teams plugged along and kept their defensive shape, sending the contest into the half deadlocked at 0-0.
The Tribe came out of the gates firing in the second half, immediately putting pressure on the Spartan defense. Sami Grasso nearly gave William & Mary the lead after breaking away towards Tyler-Cooper but her shot whistled just past the right post and out for a goal kick.
With the majority of play in the period being played in the UNCG defensive third, Hita’s goal stunned the William & Mary faithful in the stands at Martin Family Stadium. With the lead in hand, the Spartans dropped back into a primarily defensive positioning, choosing to pick moments to jump out on the counter attack.
The result was a frantic comeback attempt by the Tribe, who threw the ball and numbers into the box in search of an equalizer. However, every time William & Mary put the ball into dangerous areas, Tyler-Cooper and the UNCG defense was up to the challenge.
“In any college soccer game, whether you’re home or away, in the last 10 minutes of the game or so when a team is losing by a goal they push really hard,” said Coll. “But to have to do it the last 30 minutes against a strong team, that was a huge commitment to demand from our players but they answered every attack thrown at them and they did it well.”
The victory gives the Spartans some much needed momentum heading out of non-conference play and into fiercely competitive Southern Conference action. UNCG opens the league-portion of its schedule on Friday, travelling to Spartanburg, South Carolina to battle Wofford.
“This is a huge win on the road against a traditionally very strong program,” said Coll. “William & Mary don’t lose here hardly ever. To do that on the road against a team like that right before conference play starts is massive. It should give us a lot of confidence heading into SoCon play on Friday. We should be able to put our best foot forward right away.”