The Quinnipiac women’s soccer team jumped out to an early lead and never looked back as they stormed past conference foe Long Island to a 3-0 win last Friday at the Quinnipiac Soccer Field.
The defending regular season NEC champion Blackbirds came into the contest with a large supporting crowd, but Quinnipiac did not take long to knock the wind out of their sails.
Freshman Jillian Strassner started the scoring spree on a rebound shot just three minutes into the game. Sophomore Furtuna Velaj deked a Long Island defender and fired a shot that was stopped by Blackbird goalkeeper Jennifer Bannon, but the ball bounced right in front of the net where Strassner was waiting. Strassner kicked it into the back of the net for her third goal of the season.
“The first goal was really important,” Velaj said. “The first goal sets the tone of the game sometimes and just getting it that soon is kind of unexpected, but it just changed the whole mood with us. Now we just got to get a couple more and just shut them down and get the game.”
The Bobcats’ energy rose up a notch from that point on and took total control of the game. Both Velaj and defenseman Justine Lombardi pressured the Blackbirds into turnovers and Quinnipiac’s hustle paid dividends with another goal in the 11th minute.
The Bobcats had not been successful scoring early in previous games this year. In the 10 games prior, they had been outscored 8-2 in the first half.
“The pressure was on them for the first time in the game,” Quinnipiac head coach Dave Clarke said. “For us to go a goal ahead and have them have to deal with the pressure of having to come back and beat us 2-1, especially with the way that we have been playing of late, it was always going to be a tall task. It wasn’t over until the end, they still had chances.”
Velaj sent a rocket shot on a free kick toward the goal that hit the crossbar, popped straight into the air and was headed in by sophomore midfielder Kristina Del Mistro for the Bobcats’ second goal. It was the third goal of the year for Del Mistro and the fifth assist for Velaj.
In support of the Quinnipiac offensive firepower was freshman goalkeeper Elizabeth Cook, who made five saves on the day and also recorded her third shutout in four career starts. Halfway through the first half, Cook made a leaping save on a cross from the left of the box that was headed toward a sprinting Blackbird forward. The freshman keeper jumped and grabbed ball in front of the charging forward who looked to have a chance at a goal.
The second half featured several opportunities for the Blackbirds, but Quinnipiac’s defense came up big to keep the lead at two. Long Island forwards Sarah Laughlin and Kayleigh Morgan missed on a couple of chances to open the half.
Laughlin sent in a ball off a set piece to Morgan, who headed the ball just over the net. A few minutes later, Laughlin took a corner kick and Morgan received the ball off a deflection, but her shot sailed just high. Of the Blackbird’s 20 shots, only five were on target, and all were blocked by Cook.
The Bobcats posted an insurance goal in the 69th minute to secure the victory. It was Velaj starting things again with the ball down the right sideline. But this time it was Velaj who finished, as she faked out a defender, continued into the box and fired a shot on the Long Island goal. The shot ripped past the diving goalkeeper and was knocked into the net by a Long Island defender who was supporting the keeper from behind. Velaj was credited with her seventh goal of the season.
“Since I have been at Quinnipiac, this is where Dave [Clarke] has taught me a lot of things,” Velaj said. “He is always telling me that if I put pace on it, if you shot it there, the defender is going to be there and if it hits off them, it is most likely going to go in.”
Velaj led the Bobcats in shots with eight and Del Mistro and Strassner contributed with four each as well.