Northern Michigan University women’s soccer team opens season with long-range winning goal

Northern Michigan University’s Taelor Moore, right, fights St. Cloud State’s Mallory Mollenhauer for the ball on defense during their women’s college soccer game on Thursday at the NMU Soccer Field. (Journal photo by Corey Kelly)

Up next: NMU women’s soccer hosts Minnesota-Duluth, noon Sunday at the NMU Soccer Field

———————-

MARQUETTE — Find a way.

That was the message relayed across the pitch among the players on the Northern Michigan University women’s soccer team as the second half wound down tied at one in the Wildcats’ opening game of the season on Thursday.

Sophomore forward Jenna Halonen did find a way, scoring from nearly 50 yards out for the go-ahead goal with 10 minutes left as the Wildcats defense held on from there for a 2-1 victory over St. Cloud State at the NMU Soccer Field on Thursday.

It was a feel-good victory for the Wildcats after dropping last year’s opener 3-0 at St. Cloud, Minnesota. It was also Northern’s first win over the Huskies since 2008.

For second-year head coach Sonia Basma, the season-opening win comes as an exciting relief for her and her young team after starting 2017 with five straight losses.

“It feels really good,” she said. “Going into this game, six of our starters are freshmen. So we didn’t know what to expect, but we got the job done and I’m happy.”

While Basma was pleased with the freshmen in her lineup, she credited the defensive back line as well.

“We’re bringing experience on our back line with (senior) Sophia Sachs,” the coach said. “She’s telling everybody what to do out there and it’s amazing.

“But (give) a lot of credit to our youth as well, because like I said, half of our starting lineup were freshmen and way for them to come up big in their first collegiate match.”

It didn’t take long for the Wildcats to dent the scoreboard with freshman forward Taelor Moore booting a ball past SCSU junior goalkeeper Kelsey Christian for a 1-0 lead just under three minutes in.

Basma credited Moore for finishing what she’s been doing in practice.

“Nothing like a goal to get momentum,” she said. “Taelor volleyed that in and she does that all day in training. It was only a matter of time that she would pop one in during a game.”

The Wildcats had another golden opportunity in the 11th minute when Halonen headed a shot off the crossbar, denying a 2-0 NMU lead.

Avoiding a deep hole after the crossbar shot, the Huskies — who were also playing their season opener — got on the board in the 35th minute when freshman defender Grace Butler put home a rebound past NMU sophomore goalkeeper Brianna Frontuto. It came after a crossing pass into the box that evened the score 1-1 at halftime. The Wildcats held a 6-4 shot advantage at the break.

St. Cloud controlled the ball for most of the second half, but was unable to find the back of the net again as the action picked up late.

The Huskies had a chance to take the lead after sophomore midfielder Kaitlyn Dziubinski ran in on Frontuto as she waited to play the ball. Frontuto was able to get the ball away which eventually setup Halonen.

The SCSU goalkeeper came out of the net, nearly to the midfield circle, to play the ball. Halonen intercepted the ball and booted the nearly 50-yarder high over Christian’s head and into the net, giving NMU a 2-1 lead in the 80th minute.

Halonen said she recognized Christian’s mistake and simply took advantage.

“I knew she (Christian) was off her line and I just took a touch and shot it,” she said. “It feels good going into the season and beating a good team. It was a good start and we know our abilities now.”

Shifting the focus to defense for the final 10 minutes, the Wildcats fended off a flurry of attacks by the Huskies.

With eight minutes to go, SCSU sophomore midfielder Sally Nelson took a shot that missed the net. The ball came out to sophomore teammate Kate Murphy, who sent the rebound into the side of the net, giving the Wildcats a breather.

With under six minutes left, Murphy had another golden chance when she broke past the Wildcats defense and sent the ball high of the net.

The Huskies tried one final attack in the last minute. After advancing the ball upfield, the Wildcats committed a foul that awarded SCSU a free kick from the right side with 10 seconds left. Huskies’ senior defender Sara Mango took the free kick which was crossed into the crowded box. Frontuto leaped up and made the last-second save to preserve NMU’s victory.

With the late flurry, SCSU finished the contest with an 11-9 shots advantage. Frontuto made eight saves while Christian had six. SCSU committed seven fouls to NMU’s six.

Halonen and Moore led the Wildcats with four shots each, while Murphy had three shots for the Huskies.

Email Ryan Spitza at sports@miningjournal.net.