CALEDONIA, Mich. – Halfway through the 2017 season, Ashland University's women's soccer team has weathered injuries and a slow start to rise to the top of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference standings.
On Friday (Sept. 29) at the Farmers Insurance Athletic Complex on the campus of Davenport University, the Eagles and Panthers faced off for the first time in women's soccer. The result was a 3-2 overtime win for Ashland, which lifted the Eagles to a first-place tie in the GLIAC table.
Ashland is 5-3-1 overall and 2-0 in the league, having gone 5-2 in the last seven outings. The Panthers are 5-3-1, 1-1-1, and had a streak of 5-0-1 in their previous six matches snapped.
"As far as conference play, we're 2-0, and that's all you can ask for," said Ashland head coach Danny Krispinsky. "Both games have been really tough games, but we knew that going in. It's our experience, our senior leadership that has led the way for this team.
"You cannot put a price on it, you can't measure it, but it's that leadership that we've relied on with our upperclassmen that has gotten us off to this great start."
Senior forward Morgan Bittengle's game-winner came 5:19 into overtime, and her fourth goal of the season was scored following an assist from sophomore midfielder Korinna Lakes, her first of the campaign.
"Our goal is to go 2-0 this weekend, so we finished the first one, now we just prepare for the second one," said Bittengle, as she and the Eagles move on to play at Purdue Northwest on Sunday (Oct. 1) at 1 p.m. "(Senior forward) Kelsey (McKernan) played a good touch to Kori, then Kori just laid it off to me. Right place, right time.
"We took a few hits in the beginning (of the season). We just pushed through it, tried to do as well as we can."
Said Krispinsky of Bittengle, "It's a striker that does what strikers do. With her, it didn't come easy for her today. But all that she needed was a chance, and, fortunately, we were able to create that chance."
In just the seventh minute, Ashland freshman defender Hillary Mihalik was left alone at point-blank range for her second goal of the season. Mihalik found herself alone after sophomore forward Emily Ledbetter's cross went through a group in front of the net, and to Mihalik's awaiting foot behind.
The assist was Ledbetter's team-leading third helper of 2017.
Five minutes later, Davenport's best scoring chance to date, a shot from right to left, was saved aside by Ashland freshman goalkeeper Abby Lampe.
In the game's first 45 minutes, the Panthers had a 7-3 shots advantage, but Lampe was equal to the task, making three saves.
As the Eagles had done in the first half, Davenport scored early in the second to knot the game at 1. In the 50th minute, a corner kick from Alex Prout resulted in a header goal by Imanie Richards.
A restart is how Ashland took the lead back in the 65th minute, as McKernan's corner kick found the head of sophomore defender Sydney Wright. It was Wright's first goal of the season, and McKernan's third assist, tying her with Ledbetter for the team high.
Davenport tied the game at 2 in the 85th minute when Roheema Bennett slipped past the Eagle defense and scored on a feed from Alayna Hilgendorf. That set up overtime, and Bittengle's heroics.
Ashland out-shot Davenport, 17-14, and had 14 corner kicks – the program's single-game high since taking 15 corners at home against Michigan Tech on Nov. 3, 2015.