Women's head soccer coach Peter Albright, now in his 13th year, knows it's been a long time since his team won a season opening game.
But before their largest home crowd ever -- about 700 people -- the Spiders defeated the James Madison University Dukes 2-1 Sunday night, avenging last year's 1-0 loss and kicking off a season the team hopes will be much better than last year's 8-12-2 record.
"I was coming up the tunnel and I got major league goosebumps when I heard the crowd," Albright said.
Senior midfielder Jessie Wolfe scored the opening goal with 21 minutes remaining in the first half. Junior midfielder Kelsey Rdzanek scored again with 1 minute, 57 seconds remaining before JMU notched its only goal of the game with 29 seconds left.
Albright said that once Rdzanek scored, he felt the Spiders had the win. But he told his team never to take anything for granted -- especially against a team he predicted would win the Colonial Athletic Association this season.
"We can't defend for 90 minutes, but we pressured enough to get a couple goals," Albright said. "We made it interesting, which you never want to do. You have to prepare for overtime."
The Spiders played aggressively throughout the game, a tactic Albright said he had been preparing his team for since the end of last season. Albright emphasized the physical nature of soccer and told his players never to back down.
"They've been building physical competitiveness, which starts with mental competitiveness," he said. "You have to be able to give as good as you get."
The defense matched the offense's aggression, stopping two close shots in the last nine minutes before the Dukes scored after a corner in the last minute. Albright praised senior Julia Bizer, who shut out JMU's sophomore All-American Cate Tisinger.
"[JMU's] goal was unfortunate," Bizer said. "We know we have to work on our defensive corners, but this is a non-conference game. It can't count against us; it can only count for us."
Wolfe, who also scored the first goal of her freshman season in another opener against JMU, said it was always important to start with the lead. Her goal put pressure on the Dukes, and she said Rdzanek's goal had been the dagger that gave the Spiders the momentum they needed to win.
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She and Bizer agreed that the team worked well under Albright's new attack-oriented system.
"JMU is a big rival," Bizer said. "This is a big step for the program."
Contact sports editor Barrett Neale at firstname.lastname@example.org
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