Women’s soccer battle, ultimately fall short vs. Wake Forest

Sporting green warm-up tops in celebration of Mental Health Awareness Night, the University of Rhode Island women’s soccer team welcomed Wake Forest to the URI Soccer Complex on Thursday.

Despite an early second-half free kick that halved a two-goal deficit just minutes after the break, the Rams ultimately could not use their attacking momentum to their advantage, falling 3-1 in their fourth loss of the season to close out non-conference play. 

Rhode Island held the Demon Deacons scoreless through the opening 20 minutes, showing off an organized defensive structure that caught the visitors offside 13 times throughout the night. Although the start proved encouraging for head coach Megan Jessee and her squad, things would ultimately take a costly turn for the Rams in the 22nd minute. 

It was here where the Wake Forest offense came alive, finding the back of the net twice in the space of 78 seconds. The opener came courtesy of a Tyla Ochoa through ball down the right wing that sliced through the URI back line, finding the feet of a streaking Caiya Hanks. Taking the ball into the box with only Faith Hutchins to beat, she calmly slotted the ball home at the near post to give the visitors the 1-0 lead. 

Less than two minutes later, an active Hanks found her way into the attack once again down the right flank. This time, she squared a ball across the face of goal to the feet of Alex Wood in the box, who’s composed left-footed finish at the near post beat a diving Faith Hutchins in net to double the lead for Wake Forest.

“Even in the first half, we had stretches, we had the game, we were creating stuff,” Jessee said after the game. “Two unfortunate goals, obviously we could’ve cleaned stuff up here and there, but we could play with this team. And that’s what we were trying to get across.” 

Through the halftime break, that message aided the Rams. Down 2-0, they eventually stabilized, keeping a fast-paced Demon Deacons attack out of the danger zone in the closing stages of the first half. They managed to bring a goal back early in the second half when third-year Christina Sallent curled in a free-kick from just outside the 18 on the left wing, using the inside of her right foot to evade the wall and beat Madison Howard to her near post. 

Sallent’s first goal of the season – and third of her career – was the first goal conceded by the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) side in 422 minutes, and gave the Rams a spark of energy heading into the business end of the game. 

“It feels great, but I mean, I can’t score three goals,” Sallent said. “[It] doesn’t mean that much, but [I’m] happy for the goal.”

Rhode Island came close to the elusive equalizer in the second half, but could not find the finishing touch, recording a pair of shots on goal and forcing one save out of Howard between the sticks. 

In total, the visitors outshot the Rams 13-5 on the night, and had four shots on Hutchins’ goal. They eventually made their opportunities count in the 68th minute when Caiya Hanks capped off a hat trick of goal involvements, picking up her second assist of the night in a very similar fashion to the opening goal. Breaking through the defense down the right flank, the Kailua-Kona, Hawaii native squared yet another ball across the face of goal, where Emily Murphy tapped in a third goal to reinstate the two-goal lead and confirm the 3-1 win for the visitors. 

Despite the result, Jessee maintained positivity heading into conference play, especially with a depleted squad missing five starting-caliber attacking players due to injury. 

“That’s a very good team, they’ll do well in the ACC,” Jessee said after the game. “It’s a good test for us. If we can play against them, which we had the game for stretches, then we can definitely play against any of the A-10 teams we’re gonna play. There’s a lot of positives to take from this game for sure.”

Up next, Rhode Island will continue the hunt for their inaugural win of the 2023 campaign on Thursday with a trip to Saint Joseph’s, set to open their A-10 conference slate with action scheduled to kick off at 7 p.m.