Women’s soccer denies Panthers’ late comeback; hold on for 3-2 win

Alex Staab, Courier Staff


MACOMB, Ill. — A sizeable 3-0 lead soon turned into a desperate situation to hold on, and that’s exactly what the Western Illinois women’s soccer team (3-5-1) did, winning by a 3-2 score on a perfect Monday afternoon for soccer against the Northern Iowa Panthers (4-5-0) out of the Missouri Valley Conference.

A downpour hit the Macomb area all day Sunday, causing a postponement of this Western Illinois – Northern Iowa contest. Finally, after moving to an auxiliary field behind Western Illinois University’s Brophy Hall and setting the 4:30 p.m. kickoff time, it was take two, and it worked this time.

Very early on, the Leathernecks’ Zoe Clarke went down with a brief injury that she quickly recovered from, and it resulted in WIU getting a free kick from just outside the box, but it was to no avail, as the Panthers were able to clear an early chance for the hosts.

With the Leathernecks having control of possession for the most part in the beginning minutes, it allowed Western Illinois goalkeeper Ines Palmiero Herrera to not get her first touch until roughly five minutes into the game.

It wasn’t much later that corners came left and right, quite literally. Sophomore Cassidy Grunewald had the best early chance for the Leathernecks, firing a shot on goal that was brought in by Northern Iowa keeper Anna Kaiser, as WIU continued to test the senior and Sam Houston State transfer.

Northern Iowa was able to get a quality shot, but the Western Illinois defense stood tall, a major key to this one, either saving or blocking a flurry of shots and eventually clearing it out.

Momentum quickly changed hands, as a junior to sophomore connection saw Jenna Lundgren cross it through to Clarke, who got one past the keeper for the first goal of the afternoon, putting Western Illinois ahead, 1-0, at the 15:09 mark of the game.

Just as soon as the Leathernecks appeared to hold an advantage, Northern Iowa began to sway things back in their direction, occasionally legging out Western Illinois on multiple breakaways, but for WIU, it didn’t amount to any goals for the visitors.

Lundgren was very close to making it 2-0 and getting involved in both goals when she beat Kaiser in goal, but a Panther defender was able to sneak in and block the shot.

As the game’s physicality began to step it up a notch, it was Lundgren again, this time colliding with Kaiser, stopping play for Lundgren to be assessed with a yellow card.

Despite the card being handed out, Western Illinois kept it within their style, getting a corner that was eventually cleared, but a few minutes before half, it was Lundgren getting another chance, this time collecting a touch off a scrum in front of the net for a goal that just clipped Kaiser’s hands and gave the Leathernecks a 2-0 lead, in a score that would stand come halftime.

After both teams had conversed during the break, it was Northern Iowa that executed the game plan in the opening minutes of the second half, playing much more aggressively on the offensive side of the ball, keeping Palmiero-Herrera busier at the start, moreso than she had been doing the entire first half.

The efforts of Jenna Lundgren continued onward, as she would shake off a pair of Panther defenders to get a good look, but it went wide left.

Western Illinois wasn’t completely satisfied with a 2-0 lead. A save attempt by Kaiser for Northern Iowa wasn’t brought in, and gave Amy Andrews an opportunity, and Andrews seized it, scoring the Leathernecks’ third goal of the game, and seemingly taking control.

However, do note that there was still 36:03 remaining in the second half at the time of Andrews’ goal, her fourth goal of the 2019 season. Plenty of soccer left to be played.

That’s exactly what happened. Northern Iowa fought for multiple corners, with Western Illinois able to clear them all.

Palmiero-Herrera made another key save off the feet of the Panthers’ Jamie Althiser, staving off a potential comeback.

With 11:22 to go, a swarm of players for both sides found their way inside the box and beyond the goal before Johnnie Hill tapped one in for Northern Iowa to make it a two-goal game.

A sense of urgency began to envelop the field. For the Leathernecks, they would need to step up the defensive efforts even more to prevent the game from getting any closer. For Northern Iowa, they needed to find a way to the goal at least twice more, and time was not on their side.

It took until the 84:38 mark, but Northern Iowa’s Sophia Conant was able to fight off the Western Illinois defense off a feed from Jamie Althiser. Just like that, the Panthers had 5:22 left to tie it up – entirely possible.

Now, the only game going on was between the Leathernecks and the clock. Much to the chagrin of Northern Iowa, Western Illinois was able to work it towards the corner flag. Controlling the ball late ended up being the difference, as the Panthers were unable to find the goal again, and Western Illinois would hold on for their third win of the season by a score of 3-2.

Palmiero-Herrera’s three saves on Monday brought her career total to 221, putting her in sole possession of fourth on the all-time saves list in Western Illinois Women’s Soccer history.

The Leathernecks have nearly a full week off before they welcome the Chicago State Cougars to John MacKenzie Alumni Field on Sunday, September 29, at 1:00 p.m.

Unofficial Player of the Game: #9, Jenna Lundgren | 82 minutes, three shots, one shot on goal, one goal and one assist.

Twitter: @StaabAlex