Saturday, October 8 saw the Lawrence women’s soccer team solidify their position as Midwest Conference championship contenders as they won away at defending champions Knox College. Cambrie Rickard continued her brilliant form as she followed up her hat trick against Illinois College with a double as the Vikings won 2-0. That means Rickard now has the team’s last five goals overall, and she looks set to win yet another Midwest Conference Offensive Player of the Week award this week.
Rickard wasn’t the only player to do well on the day, however. In fact, Lawrence looked to be superior in every facet of play. Charlotte Linebarger and Cait Rodko were dominant in defense, with Knox only creating one chance of note in the first half. That chance was snuffed out by goalkeeper Sarah Yochem, who looks likely to win Defensive Player of the Week after a vital shutout. On the outsides, Paige Ferrence and Jessica Smith had no problems containing the Knox wingers, as both were comfortably faster than every single opposing players. Meanwhile, the Vikings’ rotation on the wings proved to be a master stroke from coach Joe Sagar, as Lawrence looked fitter, faster, and more dynamic up and down the flanks. Maddie Jones was electric as always, beating her marker almost every time she touched the ball. Erica Grube and Jaicey Stanich put in solid minutes, overwhelming the Knox defense with their relentless runs in behind, and Natalie Linebarger was a menace on the left, as she put the Knox right back on skates; this is essentially par for the course at this point. In the center of the field, Emma Vasconez and Sophia Morin were as close to perfect as they could be, controlling the tempo of the game with their passing while also winning every single 50/50 ball throughout the match so that Knox never had a chance to build a real attack down the center of the park.
So the Vikings are a very good team; that conclusion is fairly evident, given the articles I’ve written on them thus far this year. But this performance had an even more impressive feel about it. Perhaps it was because the opponents were the defending conference champions (even if they have taken a step back this season), or maybe it was because this was an away game. But as one reflects on watching the match, I think it becomes clear that what makes this win so impressive is that Lawrence won every single one-on-one battle on the field, all game long. Our winger consistently beat their outside backs, and vice versa. Our center midfielders dominated midfield. Our center backs kept their strikers from ever coming close to influencing the game. And so on and so forth.
In my time as a Lawrence soccer player myself, I’ve seen Coach Sagar take this program from a 0-win team to their first conference tournament in 10 years, but this is the first time I can say the Vikings dominated across the board in a big game. Lawrence has traditionally been a very one-dimensional team; they’ve been either great on the counterattack, or great in possession, but not both. They’ve been able to defend well in the air or on the ground, but not both. And so on and so forth. But for the first time, that is no longer the case. Sagar has finally had enough time to develop his philosophy and recruit players he wants so that the team looks able to compete, no matter the style the opponents play, and without having a weakness. They score, and they keep opponents from scoring. That’s the definition of a great team. I truly think they have the ability to beat anyone in the conference at this point, and to perhaps pull their first conference championship in years.