Riding a four-game win streak to end the regular season, the Loras women began Iowa Conference tournament play as the #3 seed. They opened against their rival, the University of Dubuque Spartans. After defeating the Spartans in the regular season finale on Tuesday night, the Duhawks looked to do it again and advance into the second round.
With these rivals facing off for the second time in a week, it was sure to be a hard fought battle. Both sides came out firing from the start, putting up five shots each in the first half. The women broke through in the 22nd minute when sophomore Riley O’Neill connected on a free kick that bounced over the goalkeeper’s head and into the back of the net. The Duhawks maintained this 1-0 advantage into halftime.
In the second half, the offensive production kicked up as the sides combined for 20 shots and seven on target. The Spartans had a number of scoring opportunities, but first year goalie Michelle Loyo continued her strong play by maintaining her clean sheet. In the 73rd minute, Dubuque seemed to have broken through and evened the score. The Spartan’s Kyleigh McLaughlin sent a loose ball into the net, but the decision was overturned after it was determined that Loyo was fouled on the play. The Duhawks remained in the lead and put the game away less than a minute later. Sophomore Maura Walsh fought off a pair of defenders and headed the ball past the keeper to give the Duhawks the insurance tally they needed. The game ended with a 2-0 Loras victory.
For most of the regular season, the Duhawks leaned heavily on the goal-scoring tandem of seniors Katie Truesdale and Danielle Vujovic. However, during their recent winning streak, many underclassmen have stepped up to make big contributions. One of these major contributors has been Michelle Loyo. In her six starts this season, the first-year has gone 4-1-1 with a 1.04 goals against average and a .833 save percentage, along with three shutouts. This emergence of multiple weapons has Danielle Vujovic confident during postseason play.
“At this time in the season, having more weapons in our arsenal is crucial. It is great that people are stepping up at the right time. Conference playoffs are an important time of the year; if we lose we are done, so having more people we can count on for good minutes on the pitch will help our team out tremendously,” said Vujovic.
The women advanced to play in Cedar Rapids against the #2 seed Coe College Kohawks. On October 14, Loras fell to Coe 3-1. That marked the Duhawks’ last loss before their winning streak began. In their first matchup, a late barrage of goals put the game out of reach for Loras. This time, though, Loyo will be in net instead of junior Maria Siebels. This could make a difference given the first year’s recent success. The Duhawks only have one thing on their mind coming into this game: revenge.
“Our mindset has greatly changed since we last played Coe. I believe we overlooked them the first time we played them, and we didn’t have faith in our abilities,” said Vujovic. “However, our mindset now is on revenge. The first time we played them, it wasn’t our best performance, so we are excited this time around, and we are ready to give them all we got.”