Julia Nagel/Assistant Photo Editor

Cornell Sophomore Reagan Pauwels (#22) takes on Niagara junior goalkeeper Clara Bornet (#30) during Thursday night's contest.

September 9, 2021

Cornell Women’s Soccer Falls to Niagara and Villanova

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Coming off a win and a tie, Cornell women’s soccer entered its Thursday night matchup expecting to maintain its momentum. 

In a scrappy game against a physically dominant Niagara University team, the Red were quickly caught off guard by the Purple Eagles’ intensity. After two early — albeit fortuitous goals — Niagara captured enough energy to take home a 5-2 victory.

After opening the match with possession, Niagara (2-1, 0-0) quickly pushed the ball down field and persisted on the attack for much of the first half. After around 10 minutes of defensive stands, the Red (1-2-1, 0-0) conceded the first goal of the night after a Purple Eagle strike inadvertently deflected off its own player and into the back of the net. 

Niagara once again found the back of the net minutes before halftime after a spinning shot rolled through the hands of freshman keeper Erica Fox.

For Fox, her already rough day was cut short by a head injury early in the second half. The injury occurred when a Niagara attacker was left with an open field, leaving Fox as the Red’s last and only line of defense.

Fox waited for the perfect moment to charge the offender, colliding with her just inside the box while blocking the shot. Despite a perfectly executed save, the high-speed contact left Fox motionless as the ball trickled away, allowing the Purple Eagles to dribble it into an empty net and take a 3-0 lead.  

Despite the loss, sophomore forward Ava Laden continued her active role in the offense, assisting freshman forward Peyton Nichols for the Red’s first goal and scoring the second herself. 

With three assists and two goals through the Red’s first three contests, Laden’s ability to find the ball makes the sophomore a player to keep an eye on this season as she anchors the Red’s offensive attack. 

Head coach Rob Ferguson expects the loss to serve as a wake up call for his young team. 

“I think the energy levels and intensity from this point forward, early in games, will be good,” Ferguson said. “It better be.”

Hired in 2019, Ferguson is tasked with bringing together a new group of young players, most of whom have yet to experience collegiate gameplay. Citing the squad’s inexperience and dormancy due to COVID, Ferguson said he feels like the Red went into Thursday’s game with the wrong mindset. 

“We were excited coming in off the back of a win and a tie, and we came in flat,” Ferguson said. “We didn’t do the basics.”  

In Sunday’s matchup against an undefeated Villanova (5-0) squad, Ferguson’s hopes for a wake-up call came to fruition despite taking a second consecutive loss, falling to the Wildcats, 2-0. 

Despite losing the game, the Red put together a much stronger all-around performance, firing seven shots, including four on goal. The defense held up much better as well, as Fox bounced back from her injury and recorded seven saves.

With a tough schedule up ahead, Laden remains optimistic after the Red’s strong finish against Niagara carried over to a stout defensive showing against Villanova. 

“It was easy for us to see that we could have that momentum,” Laden said. “We worked as a team and stuck to our gameplan. It was a lot more cohesive.”  

Looking ahead, the Red will take a short trip up to Syracuse University (4-1) this Thursday, where the team will fight for the program’s first-ever win against the Orange. On Sunday, the Red will travel to New Rochelle, New York, to face off against Iona (2-2).