Women’s soccer wins conference title

by Bryan GeelanStaff Writer

The Simpson women’s soccer team traveled to Mt. Vernon on Saturday afternoon knowing that a victory against Cornell would clinch an Iowa Conference title, the first for the program since 1999.

The Storm entered the game clear favorite over the Rams. Cornell held a conference record of 2-3-2, a far cry from Simpson’s league-leading 6-0-1. However, the Rams were celebrating senior day and were playing without the pressure of a possible conference title on their backs.

“We have never played well at their place, so it is an uneasy setting going into it knowing that we have a lot at stake and they have nothing at stake,” said Cory Chapman, head women’s soccer coach, prior to the game. “We need to go there and score early to take the pressure off.”

Apparently the Storm would rather play with a little added pressure, as the game clock quickly wound down with neither team having scored.

“We were getting very nervous in the back,” said freshman Heather Akes about the possibility of letting a shot at the conference title slip away.

It took until less than two minutes remaining in the game for sophomore mid-fielder Alyssa Stoll to break the scoreless tie. Senior Ashley Curran added her team-leading 17th goal of the season less than a minute later for insurance, securing the 2-0 triumph over the Rams.

“It’s the first time I have ever won a conference title,” said freshman Heather Akes. “It was exciting.”

The victory means more than just a conference title, however. The spoils of winning the regular season include a number one seed in the conference tournament, a first round bye, and the right to host the semifinal and final round of the conference tournament.

“(Hosting) is huge not only because of the surface we have, but I also think it’s a mental thing as well,” said Chapman. “Obviously, like anyone in any sport, you feel like your chances are better if it’s in your back yard.”

A big reason for Simpson’s success this year has been the employment of a non-traditional style of play using three forwards rather than the traditional two. This resulted in more offensive threats for the Storm.

“The pressure we are putting on other teams in front of their own goal is constant,” said Chapman. “It’s not a pretty style, but it’s effective.”

The system seems to be working. When playing conference opponents, Simpson ranks second among other conference schools in both goals and assists per game.

Curran, who has been an all-conference performer for Simpson since her freshman year, has had another great year in the system. She currently ranks second in goals scored (17) and is tied for fourth in assists with teammate, senior Morgan Kelly (9). Curran has been named Iowa Conference Player of the Week twice this season.

“Ashley has been putting up big statistics for us her whole career,” said Chapman. “She’s a dangerous player whenever she touches the ball.”

Because the Storm plays with one more offensive player than do most teams, this leaves one less defensive player to defend the goal.

“That’s the Catch 22, because we are taking that chance,” said Chapman. “We feel with our girls in the back, as well as our goalkeeping, that they can withstand any pressure that we’ll see.”

Simpson’s goalkeeper, sophomore Whitney Franker, has had a record-setting year. Her shutout against Cornell marked the 13th of her career, setting a Simpson record for career shutouts. With two years of eligibility remaining, that number could climb much higher before she’s finished.

“We knew she was going to be good,” said Chapman. “But to be honest, I didn’t think she was going to be this good.”

Franker, along with a solid wall of defenders in front of her, leads a Simpson defense that is one of the best in the conference. The rotation of seniors Jessica Keyser and Megan Schonhorst, sophomore Johanna Krippal and freshman Heather Akes have helped solidify the Storm defense, which ranks third in the conference in goals allowed.

Despite some great individual performances on the season, Chapman is quick to note that the Storm have thrived on teamwork.

“It’s really been a team effort from top to bottom,” said Chapman. “We are excited for the possibility, and hopefully that can help us get into the national tournament.”