After a successful regular season and a third place berth in the Southern Conference women’s soccer tournament, the Lady Bears took to the pitch to face sixth-ranked Chattanooga on Sunday evening. The last time these two teams met resulted in a 2-1 Chattanooga win in overtime October 2.
The match would start off slowly, especially for the Bears, who very early on watched senior defender Corinne Wooten leave the field nursing an injury, forcing Mercer to play without her for 12 to 13 minutes.
During this time the Chattanooga Mocs started attacking the Mercer end with a much quicker pace and were able to earn themselves eight corner kicks by the end of the first half. The Mocs also put five shots towards net in the opening frame, none of which found the net or challenged Bears’ goalkeeper Cristina Mursuli.
A quick half without many stoppages in play would result in a tie headed into halftime. The Bears were outshot five to two and had earned only a single corner kick to the Mocs’ eight.
The half allowed the Bears to get a breather and refocus their offensive strategy. Mercer came out quickly and started peppering the ball towards net. At the 55-minute mark, junior striker Valeria Bermeo would put the Bears ahead 1-0.
Bermeo received the ball on an excellent pass by senior midfielder Jamilah Tejan, who fought off a double team with sharp dribbling to set up the score. Seven minutes later and it would be Tejan again facilitating offense, settling down a header from freshman Megan Delmonico, then crossing the ball to redshirt senior Maddie Clark who would bury the ball into the top left corner of the goal, 2-0 Mercer.
Three minutes later — after one of Chattanooga’s three fouls in the period — Bermeo set up for a free kick about 10 yards past midfield. Her shot, a line-drive style kick, would deflect cleanly in off of the head of a Mocs’ defender, 3-0 Mercer.
The Lady Bears would keep the pressure up through the rest of the match, but it was the play of their backline and goalkeeper which sealed the shutout victory for the bears. Mursuli finished with two saves and no goals allowed in the full 90 minutes of play.
Sophomore defender Jordan Christensen and Wooten combined to be an effective force defensively taking away the majority of Chattanooga chances before they had a chance to materialize.
STARS OF THE GAME:
Maddie Clark: Four shots, three of them on goal, and one goal made for a good afternoon from Clark. Not obvious on the stat sheet was her effort in the first half to stretch the defense and make long runs to take the pressure off her own backline.
Jamilah Tejan: One shot and two assists, but those two assists were both cases of excellent footwork and poise under pressure. Her assist on the eventual game winner resulted from her battling through a double team of defenders to get the ball through.
Valeria Bermeo: One shot, which was on goal, went into the net. The first goal of the game and eventual game winner, Bermeo helped send her Bears team into the semi-final with a win Sunday.
Head coach Tony Economopolus on a defensive first half: “It’s taxing, I thought the first four minutes we came out with some energy, created some early chances with Maddie Clark, and when [Wooten] got hurt we had to play a man down for 12 to 15 minutes, and that’s difficult in a game like this. We absorbed a lot of their pressure, and to come into halftime at 0-0, I was happy with us.”
On the second half: “We challenged our girls in the second half. We’re full strength now; let’s not be so hesitant and timid, and I thought we came out well, more energy, and that created several chances early on in the second half.”
On three goals in under 10 minutes: “It’s a testament to the team. We rested some girls, and we have a pretty deep bench, so we had some fuel and we said, ‘We’re gonna keep pushing,’ and for those 10 minutes we didn’t take our foot off the pedal. If we could play every game 0-0 at halftime and have that kind of second period performance, I would be happy.”
With the win the team advances to the semi-final of the SoCon Tournament, which will be played in Johnson City, Tennessee. The Bears will take on East Tennessee State at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 4. The game can be seen on the SoCon Digital Network.