Coach Peter Albright's decision last weekend to move senior Jessie Wolfe from center midfielder to forward has led to back-to-back wins for the women's soccer team and back-to-back two-goal games for Wolfe.
"I think Jessie's the best center mid in the A-10," Albright said. "But we need a player to hold the ball up top, and it's physically difficult for [the other forwards] to be strong enough. We mixed things up a little bit with the midfield because of injuries, and it's putting us into the lead."
Wolfe scored both goals during the Spiders' 2-0 win against the University of Rhode Island on Friday at First Market Stadium. She also scored twice last Sunday during a 3-1 home win against Xavier University. The Spiders are ranked eighth in the mid-Atlantic region by Soccer Buzz Magazine.
Wolfe said Rhode Island and Xavier both played a high offsides trap, where defenders would position themselves further away from the goal to try to get offsides calls against Richmond. The team's goal was to kick the ball over players and into the goal, and Wolfe said she had been able to use that strategy to score during both games.
"The past three years I haven't scored more than six goals," Wolfe said. "My original position, center mid, is more of a playmaker position. Coach moved me up closer to score."
Wolfe has five goals and two assists this season, matching last season's point total less than halfway through the season. The Spiders took the early lead with Wolfe's first goal during the 18th minute of the game.
Fellow senior Sarah Hilt had the assist, her fifth of the season, which is more than she had had during the last three years combined. Hilt, who had had four goals during the first three years of her collegiate career, has three goals this season.
"I think it's a function of the way the team is playing," Albright said. "We didn't produce as many chances last year."
Both teams had seven shots, but Richmond had four shots on goal compared to Rhode Island's one. Freshman goalkeeper Andrea Young had one save during the Spiders' shutout, and the Richmond defense denied the Rams numerous other opportunities.
Albright complimented the play of junior defender Carter Blair, who he said had improved in each game. He said her position required intelligence and an ability to read her opponents, and said she hadn't put a foot out of place against Rhode Island.
"She played everything clean and protected the goalkeeper really well," Albright said.
Wolfe, Hilt and defender Julia Bizer are the three senior starters leading the team, but Young is one of five freshmen who started Friday's game and is helping the team continue its strong start this season.
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"We really haven't done much," Wolfe said about the seniors leading the freshmen. "They're natural at it, and Andrea did a great job keeping us even in shots."
Both teams had fewer shots during the second half -- Richmond had two and Rhode Island had one -- but all were on goal, including Wolfe's second goal, which she scored with 12 minutes left during the game.
"It's crucial to get the first goal," Wolfe said. "It puts the other team back on their heels and makes them worry about scoring. The second goal is the dagger in the heart."
The Spiders are now 8-2-1 overall, 2-1 in conference games and 6-0 at home. The team started off 3-0 against strong teams, which Wolfe said had given the players confidence early in the season after an 0-6 start in 2006 and an 0-4 start in 2007.
"We always lost the first games," Wolfe said, "but we won these games this year."
Getting a winning conference record was important to the team, and Wolfe said it put the players in a good place for the Atlantic 10 tournament in November. Albright said one of the team's goals was to go undefeated at home, and he felt that it had an advantage at First Market Stadium.
Rhode Island's record dropped to 4-7-1 with the loss, but Albright said this was an important conference win for the team and he expected Rhode Island to beat a lot of teams this season.
"Rhode Island was very difficult to play against," he said. "We were down a couple players, and I'm so proud of the way the kids rose to the occasion. Jessie was massive.
"She was doing so many things well, scoring and pressing their backs. ... There are so many one-dimensional forwards. Jessie does everything for this team."
Richmond's one conference loss was at the University of Dayton, which Albright said was one of the two strongest programs in the Atlantic 10, along with the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, which Richmond will play at home Oct. 17.
"This is a huge, huge game," Albright said. "I was very worried about this game, and now we don't have to climb out of a hole. We're in control right now."
Richmond will play the University of Massachusetts next at 1 p.m. Sunday at First Market Stadium. Last season, Richmond lost to Massachusetts 2-1 in double overtime.
"We pretty much dominated but they scored in overtime," Wolfe said. "We want to come out extra hard and try to beat them into the ground. Getting a third conference win is crucial."
Albright said the team had won each game this season that was against a team it had not beaten last year. This includes JMU, Virginia Commonwealth University, Longwood University, the University of Maryland at Baltimore County and American University.
"We don't talk about it much but these kids have a lot of pride," Albright said. "We want to rectify those losses. UMass beat us in overtime last year. We're going to put in a good effort on Sunday."
Contact staff writer Barrett Neale at firstname.lastname@example.org
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