Leiva, Panthers rain on Hatters parade, win 2-0

Rain: the greatest equalizer in soccer.

Friday the Panthers played host to a barrage of Miami storms that created a huge sponge for a field. Head Coach Thomas Chestnutt and his coaching staff decided to go barefoot and grabbed what looked to be large squeegees that helped push extra water towards the sidelines.

The Panthers were clearly not depressed about the rain. Instead, the team looked to make light of a cloudy situation. Senior forward Ashleigh Shim laid on her back and formed a “rain angel,” versus the popular snow angel. Shim and her teammates then proceeded to form a line where one would scoop a handful of rainwater and pass it down the line and off the field. Unfortunately, the already delayed 5 p.m. start had been delayed even further, as Mother Nature provided no break in between storms.

5:51 p.m. was the time agreed upon to resume the start of the match. At that moment, clear skies rolled in for the duration of the night. Each ball being used still stuck into the ground after landing on the mushy grass. Each player slipped while trying to make a play on the ball but the conditions weren’t going to muddle the Panthers gameplan.

“Unfortunately, the rain kinda rained out our field,” said redshirt junior defender Sara Stewart. “The good thing is we know we have to play in any condition and we came in with the mentality that the ball may take a bad bounce, but we made sure to cover each other really well.”

Stewart continued her channeled aggressiveness on defense against Stetson, seemingly able to get in the way of opposing team’s shots at will.

“I definitely know that [winning 50/50 balls] is something I look for every game,” said Stewart. “I just like to come out hard because it sets the tone of the game. We like to tell the other team, ‘Hey, we’re here and we’re here to play. This is our home field.’”

The Panthers began the first half with surprisingly crisp passes between one another. Two minutes in, Stetson was being punished for players out of position. The Hatters seemed uncomfortable all evening, which resulted in only three shots in the first 45 minutes and 10 in total. There were lots of fouls, as well, which was to be expected due to the poor weather (nine for the Panthers, six for Stetson).

“I thought they did a very good job of getting out on the opening whistle,” said Chestnutt. “The focus was there… They understood that the ground was going to play very fast and they were able to use that, especially on the first goal.”

Almost every 50/50 ball was being won by the Panthers and their iron-clad defense, led by captain and redshirt junior Nikki Rios. These balls won on the defensive end eventually translated to breakaways on the attacking third for the Panthers, yet nobody expected a golden chance in just the eighth minute.

The breakaway ignited with an as-smooth-as-can-be through ball by midfielder Scarlet Montoya to junior Madlen Weinhardt. Lingering towards the center of the field near the box was redshirt senior forward Chelsea Leiva, who thought of nothing but net. She, also, didn’t think to stop scoring. The second goal of the first half came at the 26th minute thanks to forward Ashleigh Shim and Montoya. This time, the shot found top shelf and froze Stetson goalkeeper Karlie Hightower.

“Honestly, it was all [Montoya]. Ashleigh did a really good job of fighting for the ball,” said Leiva, recounting her second goal of the night.

Leiva finished the night with four shots, two on-goal and two goals, all in 68 minutes of playing time. With her multi-goal evening, Leiva becomes one of five players in Panther history with 30-plus goals.

Shortly after the first goal, the Hatters began to test freshman goalkeeper Nevena Stojakovic. Stojakovic made five impressive saves on the night, with the first one coming nine minutes after goal number one.

At halftime, a comfortable 2-0 lead remained for Chestnutt and his team. Some teams relax and lay back when up by two goals, but the Panthers kept on chugging along.

“We have an experienced group,” said Chestnutt. “So, they’ve been in these situations before. For us, it’s about putting together a 90 minute performance.”

A player itching to score her first goal since her two-goal performance at the University of North Florida is Ashleigh Shim. Shim orchestrated many opportunities for herself and her teammates within Stetson’s box. Eventually, the Jacksonville native will find the back of the net, especially with her quick ability to weave through traffic.

The win on Sept. 19 marks three consecutive victories for the Panthers, who are 3-2 at home on the season. Their next opponent is Long Beach State University (3-3-3), a west coast team hailing from the Big West Conference.

When asked after the game if this three-game streak instills confidence in his team for the Sept. 21 match, Chestnutt said: “You know, you can [ask], ‘Does winning breed confidence?’ It’s about habit and executing things consistently that breeds confidence. The fact that we are able to defend well as a group breeds confidence. The fact that we are sharper in our movements on the final third breeds confidence. And ultimately that leads to goals.”

The Panthers (5-3) face-off against Long Beach State University on Sept. 21 at 1 p.m. to conclude Parents’ Weekend here in Miami, FL.

Notes

FIU Starting XI: Stojakovic, Leiva, Phillips, Volz, Shim, Montoya, Hernandez, Weinhardt, Stewart, Rios and Bowden.

Two players for the Panthers that may have flown under the radar on Sept. 19 were Caroline Hernandez and Shelby Bowden. Hernandez portrayed her leg strength once more and was able to lift the ball into Stetson’s back line. Bowden played another solid 90 minute game with tough tackles and deflections to alter the Hatters’ shots all night.

Photo by Brian Trujillo/ The Beacon

About the Author

James Profetto
:Staff Writer for FIU Student Media. Majoring in Broadcast Media. Sports guru with a passion for movies, music and getting to know people. Aspiring play-by-play commentator. You'll see me on TV one day.

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