Ahlana Smith an All-American
Louisville will be home to another All-American next season. Cardinals' signee Ahlana Smith was named an NJCAA All-American yesterday after averaging 20.3 points per game in 25 starts for Gulf Coast State College this past season. Smith is the fourth All-American honoree of the season that will be playing for Jeff Walz next season, joining Olivia Cochran (McDonald's AA), Hailey Van Lith (MAA), and Dana Evans (2nd Team AA). We talked a lot last week on the Cardinal Couple Radio Hour about the players that Louisville would be losing and how other players could develop and fill the gaps, but Walz has plenty of talent still on the roster or coming in. Next season should be an exciting one.
Being a soccer fan is tough right now. The English Premier League season should be getting into the exciting final quarter of its season while MLS, USL, and NWSL should be underway or about to start. College soccer would be in the midst of spring exhibition schedules, and if the organization pushing to reform the college soccer schedule gets their way, we'd be smack-dab in the middle of the season. Instead, we're left to reminisce. So, I've chosen to do just that. I'm re-upping the recap of the November 15th match against Lipscomb, Louisville's first NCAA Tournament win since 2011. The Cards would go on to fall in the next game against a tough BYU team in Provo, but that doesn't take away from the excitement of the last game of the season in Lynn Stadium.
Soccer Ends Two Game Losing Streak at Perfect Time
The Cards ended their season with a pair of matches against NC State. The Wolfpack won both of those, sending Louisville into the NCAA Tournament with some confidence to rebuild. The Cards were able to do so last night, dominating possession of the ball on their way to a 1-0 win against the Lipscomb Bisons. Coach Karen Ferguson-Dayes noted in her post-game comments that she believed the possession was one thing Louisville could have done better on, but I believe Lipscomb's counter attacking ability was skewing her view of that stat. Louisville held possession for 71% of the first half and 64% for the entire game.
Louisville's game plan in this match was pretty simple, and matched the rest of the season: sit on the ball, work possession through the midfield, and get chances on goal. Lipscomb's game plan was equally simple: disrupt the Louisville attack, win the ball, and counter. Had the Bison strikers been able to stay onsides for the life of them, we could be having a very different conversation this morning. After being called offsides 11 times in their last game, Lipscomb was called for four in the first half of last night's match. In each one, the Cards were beaten and Lipscomb either had a one-on-one opportunity or were poised for a very dangerous cross. On two, Lipscomb attempted shots after the whistle. On both of those, Gabby Kouzelos refused to get the ball out of the back of the net and made a pair of saves that don't go in the stat sheet. In scoreless games, seeing the ball in the back of the net can do things for both the offense and defense. Kouzelos refused to lose that psychological matchup.
As Louisville held possession, they also gathered a lot of chances. Fortunately for Lipscomb, Melissa Gray was up to the task. Gray had five saves in the first half, and would go on to finish with eight on the night. A couple of those first half saves were real beauties. However, all it took in this game was one chance, and Sarah Hernandez took that chance. Finishing her third goal of the season, all three on headers, Hernandez took flight Superwoman style to get to a perfectly placed free kick by Emina Ekic. Gray was caught out just a bit and the ball found the back of the net with 34 seconds remaining in the first half. Louisville finished the first half with 10 shots and six on frame, showing that they intended to keep beating on the door until they broke it down.
The second half saw quite a bit of the same. Louisville continued to earn chances much as they had in the first half. The Cards got five corners in the second half and ultimately put up seven shots. Though only three were on frame, the pressure was evident and the six shots off of the frame of the goal were close. As Coach Ferguson-Dayes mentioned in her postgame comments, Gray's play in the first half affected Louisville's shots in the second, putting more pressure on the Cards to be fine with their placement and ultimately leading to misses.
Gabby Kouzelos maintained her staunch defense in the back, assisted of course by the back line. Lipscomb only finished with three shots and Kouzelos with two saves, but the defense saw quite a bit more work than the stats imply. Hernandez and Niamh Nelson both saw plenty of chances to clear crosses, through balls, and overhead balls, and they were up to the task last night. Kouzelos even got quite a bit more work than the box score shows, having to come all the way out of her box to win jousts at least three times and gathering a number of searching balls into the box by Lipscomb. Louisville picked up their tenth clean sheet on the way to this win.
Louisville's path gets harder from here. Their quadrant has seen nothing but chalk so far, as BYU, Arkansas, and NC State advanced last night. The second and third rounds will be held next weekend at the home site of the highest seed in the quadrant. In this case, the teams will travel to Provo, Utah, where Louisville will take on the Cougars of BYU. More information will be available as the first round ends across the tournament.
Hear the press conference style interview with Coach KFD, Emina Ekic, Sarah Hernandez, and Brooklynn Rivers here.
Cardinal Couple Radio Hour Podcast
We made it happen! Last week, everyone else was as thrilled as Jeff and I were to have Paulie back "on the air". We were also joined by Jared, and the four of us rattled on for over an hour. We're back today (at least three of us, we never did a roll call this week), and we'll bring you the joy and excitement of Louisville Women's Athletics as always. Tune into the Cardinal Couple YouTube at 11AM for this week's show.
Until next time, Go Cards!