Cornell women’s soccer defeated the University of Maine this past Saturday, 1-0, to claim its first victory on Berman Field this season and the first home-field win for head coach Dwight Hornibrook in his new position at the helm of the team.
Hornibrook led the Red (2-3) through 90 minutes of uncomfortably warm competition on Saturday. It was an unseasonably warm day in Ithaca, with temperatures peaking around 80 degrees during game-time in mid-September.
The team’s early-season fitness was apparent in the heat, as it refused to let up on Maine (2-5-1) defensively, not allowing a single shot from the Black Bears to hit the net all game.
“I think obviously defensive positioning was a really important part of [our success],” Hornibrook said. “Winning tackles, winning headers, competing for every ball in their penalty area, winning all the defensive battles in our box was really important to us. From start to finish, I thought defensively we were just really accountable, and worked very hard.”
Senior captain Kaylee Fitzgerald held together the back line, along with junior goalkeeper Meghan Kennedy and sophomore defender Kaili Gregory, who scored the lone goal of the game off a penalty kick. The shot came after senior midfielder Kat Weikert was taken down in the 18-yard box in the 16th minute.
Weikert was a key player offensively for the Red throughout the game, demonstrating the kind of competitive grit Hornibrook hopes to draw out of all of his players.
“I thought Kat Weikert was tremendous from start to finish,” Hornibrook said. “The only reason she came out of the game was because she had a bloody nose, which, as a coach, is a good sign.”
Weikert and the rest of the offensive line were very active throughout the game with 22 shots on goal compared to Maine’s seven. Despite the offensive onslaught, the only goal scored came from Gregory’s penalty kick.
Hornibrook described this lack of net contact as simply “unlucky” and moving forward he is focused more intently on improving the team’s defensive line.
“We’ve got to continue to be better defensively,” he said. “There are still some mental errors that happen, especially when you get tired, and so going against Columbia there won’t be any lack of motivation, or hunger, or drive.”
Cornell will open up Ivy-League play against the Lions (3-3-1) this Friday at home on Berman Field. Up until this point in the season, the Red has faced only non-conference opponents.
“Moving on from Maine to Columbia this week, I think we are looking to continue building our confidence, as well as fine-tuning the little things on both offense and defense,” said junior midfielder Jessica Ritchie.
And while confidence is key to the team’s success, Hornibrook is careful to avoid complacency in the team mindset. He plans to keep his players as uncomfortable as possible moving into conference play, building confidence not solely from an improving record, but from ever-increasing fitness.
“There’s a confidence that comes with extreme fitness, and we’re getting there — we’re not quite there yet,” he said. “But I told the players I’ve never been on a team, as a player or a coach, where people could stay in their comfort zone and excel, and I’m not going to put up with an average effort, in practice or in a game. I think today you saw the kind of bite we have inside us, and I think that’s going to be required for us to win games.”
The Red will face Columbia Friday at 7 p.m. on Berman Field.