Women’s Soccer: Velaj’s hat trick paves way for Bobcats
With a 3-0 win on Friday against Robert Morris, the Quinnipiac Bobcats women’s soccer team will be going somewhere they haven’t been since 2004.
Behind sophomore Furtuna Velaj’s third career hat trick, the Bobcats secured their place in the Northeast Conference Tournament. Quinnipiac will face the No. 2 Monmouth Hawks, who defeated the Bobcats 4-1 earlier in the season.
“The sooner you qualify for the tournament the better,” Quinnipiac head coach Dave Clarke said. “It takes the pressure off. We can rest a couple of players who are injured. We’ve done all the work to get ourselves to be playing again next Friday.”
Entering the game, the Bobcats needed two points over their final two games of the season to qualify for the playoffs. With the victory, Quinnipiac gained three points in the NEC standings and secured the third seed in the NEC Tournament.
On Friday, Quinnipiac played a Robert Morris squad (4-3-1 NEC) who had been in fifth place in the conference standings. The Bobcats came out with momentum on their side, maintaining control of the ball and causing the Colonial’s defense to foul.
Velaj and Susan Donovan set up for a free kick with Donovan faking right and Velaj following with a shot toward the net. The bullet shot sailed over the defensive wall in front of Velaj and was punched up by outstretched arm of the leaping goalkeeper. The ball deflected off the bottom of the cross bar and was knocked in by the head of the Robert Morris goalkeeper as she fell to the ground.
For the remainder of the half, the Bobcats played solid defense with freshman keeper Biz Cook holding steady in net with four saves through the first 45 minutes of play.
The Bobcats threatened to extend their lead early in the second half with a penalty kick attempt after a Robert Morris foul in their own defensive box. Velaj was elected to take the shot as she stepped into the box and placed the ball down in front of Robert Morris goalkeeper Jessica Olin. After the ball was set, Velaj took her mark, looked back at her teammates and ripped a shot that sailed high over the net.
Freshman midfielder Jillian Strassner led a three-on-one for the Bobcats as Shauna Edwards and Velaj were streaking down the field with Strassner against one Colonial defender. Strassner recognized the mismatch and sent a cross into the middle where Edwards shot into the diving keeper and the ball was deflected toward the middle of the goal where Velaj tapped it into the net for her second score of the afternoon. The assist was Strassner’s third of the year and Edwards’s second.
“I just told Jill, Shauna [Edwards] and Kristina Del Mistro as they came off the field that if it wasn’t for them, I would be miserable,” Velaj said. “And if I can’t score, I know that they’ll score, and I have confidence in them. I think that those three girls are the players of the game even though I put the ball in the net. Their work around me is just as important as what I did.”
Strassner came up with another hustle play late in the game to induce a second penalty kick as she was fouled in the box. Velaj again set up for the penalty kick looking for her second career hat trick against the Colonials. This time, the sophomore forward fired a shot into the lower-right corner of the net for her eleventh goal of the season.
Cook finished the game with eight saves as junior goalkeeper Kendra Margulies finished the remaining ten minutes of play for Quinnipiac.
The Bobcats were busy on the offensive end as they recorded 28 shots on the day. Velaj led the team with six, Edwards followed with five, and Kristina Del Mistro and Olivia Kravitz each finished with four.
“If we just keep playing the way we have been playing, and if we don’t change our style of play and keep attacking and defensively, I think that we can win the whole thing,” Velaj said. “And I think that if we get to the NCAA’s that we can maybe even make it past the first round. That’s how confident everyone on the team is.
“Beginning of the year was preparation all for this, for the NEC’s, and this is the most important thing.”