It was only appropriate that the Valparaiso women’s soccer team would clinch the first Horizon League regular season championship in program history with a match so representative of the season as a whole. The Crusaders combined a stifling defensive effort with timely goal scoring, as Sarrah Ludwig (Downers Grove, Ill./South) headed one home in the 70th minute off a flip throw from Abby Kenyon (Canton, Ohio/Jackson) to send Valpo to the 1-0 victory over Detroit and clinch the regular season crown.
The win was the ninth straight victory for the Crusaders, setting a new program record, and improved Valpo to a perfect 7-0-0 in Horizon League action. The victory came over the second-place Titans, putting the Crusaders six points ahead of Detroit in the standings with just one fixture date left to secure the regular-season title. It is the women’s soccer program’s first title of any sort as a member of the Horizon League, and the third regular season championship overall in program history, joining the 2005 and 2006 Mid-Continent Conference championship squads. Valpo will now host the Horizon League Championship on Brown Field, with the semifinals on Thursday, Nov. 6 and the title match on Saturday, Nov. 8.
“It’s just great for our players,” said Crusader head coach John Marovich on clinching the program’s first Horizon League regular season title. “They’re the ones that go through the season-long journey. This is why you train, for opportunities like today, and to watch our players come out and consistently battle and compete all season long makes it so rewarding to see them win the title.”
The win came on a windy and unseasonably warm day at Brown Field. The Crusaders were heading into the wind in the first half, but dealt with it quite well, limiting Detroit to just three first-half efforts, none of which were on frame. But Valpo was unable to get much going offensively in the opening 45 minutes either, attempting just six shots and forcing Titan goalkeeper Marina Manzo to make just one save.
Heading into the second half, the Crusaders got the wind at their backs and pushed forward with a quick flurry, earning a corner and firing off three shots in the first 74 seconds of the period. But none of them found their way into the back of the net, and Valpo’s lone shot on goal of the half over the first 23 minutes was a header from April Cronin (Glenview, Ill./Glenbrook South), an effort easily saved by Manzo.
Kenyon’s entry into the game in the 69th minute would end up making all the difference, however. The senior had played just once since September 7, but showed no signs of rust when the Crusaders almost immediately won a throw in the attacking third. Kenyon, who entered the match with three career assists directly off her throw-ins, took the ball and unleashed a gorgeous flip throw from 35 yards out, getting plenty of air under it. Ludwig had all the time in the world to run underneath it at the edge of the six-yard box and nodded it home inside the near post.
“We’ve talked about as a team how each person has special qualities – they all bring something unique to the team which makes the team as a group who we are,” said Marovich. “We also always talk about how the game will present an opportunity for you to do what you do best. Today, I think it’s so fitting that Abby comes in and helps win a league title for her team with her special quality, stepping up when the game presented an opportunity with the flip throw.”
The Crusaders continued their push over the next ten minutes, looking for an insurance tally, but were unable to put another goal on the board. The Valpo defense, which has been strong all season long, did its job though, limiting Detroit to just one shot on goal for the match, a shot from Haley Burtraw in the 88th minute following an extended scramble about ten yards out from goal. But Sydney Galvez-Daley (Chicago, Ill./Fenwick [Creighton]) was positioned perfectly to make the save, preserving the clean sheet and the victory. The shutout was the tenth of the season for Galvez-Daley, matching a program single-season record.
“I thought Detroit played a really nice game – they’re a very good side,” said Marovich. “I felt like the wind had a bit of an impact on the game. For us to come out of the first half without giving away many opportunities was a really big deal – it allowed us to get into the second half and try and to get the ball out of the air and keep it on the ground going with the wind. Again, it just comes down to persistence in games like that against a quality side – you have to keep pushing and find a half chance and do something with it. I thought we had a couple of good chances off of corners, but then it turns out to be the throw from Abby which makes the difference.”
Valparaiso (11-1-4, 7-0-0 Horizon) closes out the regular season next Friday afternoon at Green Bay with a 5 p.m. kickoff. Live video through the Horizon League Network and live stats will be available at ValpoAthletics.com.