There was a collective rolling of eyes when St. Louis University players and coaches learned they would face Dayton in the semifinals of the Atlantic 10 women’s soccer tournament.
Not only had the Billikens played and beaten the Flyers three times this season, including the final two regular-season games, but coach Katie Shields felt her team had its worst performance of the bunch in the last meeting.
If it’s hard to beat a team three times in a season, imagine what it must take to do so four times. Well, as it turned out, SLU was in complete control.
The 20th ranked Billikens finally rid themselves of Dayton on Thursday, rolling to a 3-0 win highlighted by a defense that held the Flyers without a shot on goal to earn a spot in Saturday’s championship game at noon at Hermann Stadium.
The Billikens (14-1) will play Davidson (7-3-3) after facing Dayton three times in an eight-day span.
“After the second time we played, we were kind of done with them,” midfielder Hannah Friedrich said. “But they changed their formation last time, and we changed things around and executed well. Now I’m excited to play someone else and see some different faces.”
SLU will be playing Saturday for a chance to earn its third consecutive A-10 tournament title and the NCAA Tournament berth that goes along with it.
It was the first time in four meetings that SLU held Dayton (7-7-1) scoreless and shut down freshman forward Itala Gemelli, who led the A-10 in goals.
Shields rebuilt the defense this year around youth, including freshmen center backs Lyndsey Heckel and Sophia Stram. They, along with senior Brionna Halverson, captured all three defensive spots on the A-10’s all-conference first team.
“The thing I was most happy with was the defending and that we didn’t give them really great chances,” Shields said. “It’s definitely the whole back four but Abbie Miller and Karsen Kohl did a good job dealing with Dayton’s midfield. It’s amazing, the young ones played beyond their years. To get all three first-team spots on defense is amazing, and Sydney Beach on some days is better than all three of them.”
Miller also continued her recent upswing in offense by scoring the game’s first goal to give the Billikens an early cushion. Hannah Friedrich and Hannah Larson added goals in the second half, and Halverson had two assists.
Miller has three goals and three assists in the last four games. Larson has scored a goal in five consecutive games. And Friedrich has two goals and 10 assists in the last eight games.
“I think I’ve definitely turned around after not scoring a bunch last year,” said Miller, who was the A-10 midfielder of the year. “This year it’s been a lot of set-piece goals on assists from Hannah (Friedrich). We’ve been connecting really well.”
The win was No. 100 for Shields in her eight-year career at SLU. The athletics department had little doubt SLU would beat Dayton for a fourth time, having ordered dozens of huge cookies with “100” on them for the celebration, which included SLU president Fred Pestello addressing the team.
SLU has a nine-game win streak and has improved to No. 8 in the Ratings Percentage Index. However, SLU is banking on needing to win the championship game to reach the NCAA field.
SLU faces Davidson, which has not been on the schedule since the 2018 season. The Billikens have played Dayton seven times since they last faced the Wildcats. SLU played only three A-10 teams during the regular season because teams were divided into pods to reduce travel amid COVID concerns.
“It’s exciting,” Shields said. “It’s just more fun to play someone new. It’s good to play someone else and see how good we can adapt.”
SLU men eliminated
The Billikens (9-5) men’s soccer team had their season end in the semifinals in Dayton when they allowed a pair of second-half goals in a 2-1 loss to Fordham (6-0-2).
The Billikens controlled the first half and scored when Christian Buendia’s shot was mishandled and then knocked into the goal by a Fordham defender.
Alberto Pangrazzi scored the game-winner with a header that bounced into the right corner of the goal past SLU goalie Patrick Schulte.