UND Soccer makes history: Now What?

(Photo Credit: Russ Hons-UND Athletics)

Today at Bronson Field, the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks Soccer Team made history. For the first time since the school took its athletics to the Division One Level, and for the first time since 2006, this program won its tenth game of the season today in a 5-2 decision against the Mavericks of Omaha.

What made this victory so encouraging and uplifting to see was who helped out and how they did. First, the team was down to its only remaining goaltender on the roster.Head Coach Chris Logan noted that he had to communicate with his captains to find a backup in case of an emergency today as he and his staff were not sure which outfield players had any goalkeeping experience. Hallie Byzewski made her debut for this team, and her first ever start. Despite letting in a tough to play goal from Sydney Randall on an arching long shot aided by the wind just 14 minutes into the match, she held tough. Towards the end of the first half Byzewski had to make a couple of saves on two wonderful UNO chances point blank that would have pushed the deficit to 2-0. She finished her debut with much success and made those two saves on four shots total. Looking beyond the box score with Hallie, seeing her come in and start her first ever game of college soccer with UND needing to break out of a two game losing streak and secure a mid table finish in the Summit League, on a very treacherous weather day was heartening. Logan has credited assistant coach Amanda Raso with developing three wonderful goalkeepers and today was another showcase of how she develops goalies. Byzewski was confident in her reads and did not look at all out of place as she made multiple good reads on crosses or through balls to extinguish chances before Omaha could record a shot on target.

On to the exploits of the outfield players, throughout the game, before clawing the lead away from Omaha in the second half and after, the Fighting Hawks were the superior team. They played with the same speed and dedication they did in the 7-0 loss to Denver but this time were rewarded for their efforts on the scoreboard.

Ashley Ebeling opened the scoring with a high arching cross that she expertly curled into the back of the net 58:27 into the game sending Bronson Field into an uproar. She took a feed from Olivia Knox and did not miss her chance to tie things up. Ebeling and her back line featuring Hannah Olson had a superb day for the Fighting Hawks.

The Mavericks had very few good looks throughout the game, and their second goal scored down 4-1 was really the only defensive miscue of the day as Laurin Mertz worked in and found the low far post to provide the last goal Omaha would score. Ebeling thought Olson had her best game of the season as she asserted herself and won possession on many tough plays and helped reverse the field quickly for the Fighting Hawks.

Megan Wright was the next to improve her goals tally as she was able to rocket home a ball to the top corner of the frame just over three minutes after the Ebeling tally. At this point the scoreboard began to reflect the reality of the game. Wright finished the game with a goal and assist.

Roughly nine minutes after the Wright marker, Mara Yapello provided what would be the game winning goal on the day as she put home a lose ball in the box. She was rewarded for her hard work as like Wright she consistently pushed the pace forward and had Omaha on their heels.

2:02 after the Yapello marker, Olivia Knox found the back of the net. She played more of an up front role for the Fighting Hawks today and was able to direct a header into the near corner to add some insurance for UND. The sophomore versatile player picked her spot and did not miss. Knox had not only a nice header, but an uncontested one as she soared on Bronson Field as she provided the decisive goal on the day. Although she has played more of a central defensive midfielder role for this team, she showed today what fans and media know about her, she can play up front whenever she is asked and knows how to find the back of the net.

Finally, Mimi Eiden would round out the goal scoring for UND. She put home her eighth goal of the season 83:26 into this one on a loose ball in the box. Eiden has been at the forefront of so many good chances for this team and Logan was proud of her for being able to be rewarded for her effort. Whenever she is on the pitch, she is one of if not the fastest players on the field, and her ability to find the tiniest gaps in an opposing defense is a wonderful thing to see. This program and every Fighting Hawks fan is lucky that she is on this team for another year after this one to say the least. She played 54 minutes coming off the bench today and as always pushed the pace as much as she could.

Going forward what does this win mean? Well for one, if the Fighting Hawks make the Summit League Tournament after their regular season finale Thursday on the road against the Bison of North Dakota State, Chris Logan should receive serious Summit League Coach of the Year consideration. In three short years he has not only improved the on field results for this team and guided them to the Summit League, but he has also changed the mentality of everyone associated with this program. Under multiple coaches that preceded him, the mentality was strictly a counter-attacking one.

If UND scored first they would let the opponent come to them and try to defend and hope to maybe win a game 1-0. That mentality and style of soccer exited this program when Logan was hired. He and his staff have recruited a confident group of players and developed those here under the previous coach to play a different game of soccer. Logan did something so antithetical to the UND Soccer of old that it was honestly fun to watch on Thursday despite the result.

The Fighting Hawks attacked a strong Denver team all game and came up short 7-0 despite earning some looks. Today, they converted a lot of those similar quality looks in less than ideal conditions. Multiple times this team has been scored on first, not ideal in any sport, especially in soccer, and multiple times they have answered back with today being no exception to that ability to answer back.

On Thursday in Fargo the Fighting Hawks face a massive test from the Bison. They took the class of the Summit League in South Dakota State to the brink and lost to them 1-0 on the road. They are lead in net by all world goalie, senior Monica Polgar who recently made her career save number 300. Up front the Bison are lead by Elyse Huber who has 10 goals on 36 shots on target. Huber and Polgar lead the way for this Bison team, and are some of the best players in their positions throughout the Summit League.

The Fighting Hawks face a tough test on Thursday night with everything to play for, although nothing is assured as to their postseason fate, the ability to earn any points against a tough and veteran Bison side is the goal. Thursday night in Fargo under the lights we will see another iteration of UND-NDSU with massive postseason implications for both teams. If UND maintains the spark that bore no fruit on Thursday against Denver in the second half that carried over through today’s win, anything can be possible for this team.

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