Liberty shutout Villanova 5-0 effectively ending the Wildcats home winning streak

Preventing Villanova from using several of its most powerful weapons was a piece of Liberty’s strategy going into the early October matchup.

The Flames overall plan: make it to the top of the Big East.

Liberty shutout Villanova Friday, Oct. 7 at The Proving Grounds 5-0. The Flames are 8-4 overall and 4-0 in conference. The Wildcats are 7-5 overall and 1-3 in conference.

Liberty entered the contest at the top of the NCAA Division I list for goals scored. They proved that stat to be true when they scored four in the second quarter.

The Flames executed thoughtful, creative corners, that involved quick, hard passes toward the cage and a finishing touch. One of them was scored by senior Charlotte Vaanhold (Hollandsche Rading, Netherlands), who swatted the ball into the cage.

“I used to play tennis back in the day,” Vaanhold said.

She scored the third and fourth goals for the Flames. She said it took her the first quarter to figure things out. Nova’s defense started off very well organized.

“I had so many chances, but I was thinking, why wasn’t it going in,” she said.

The first shot Liberty took bounced off the post. The Wildcats were mentally in the game and immediately got the ball out of its circle. They ran it down to their circle, but then didn’t gain much offensive action the rest of the first half.

“I think the first three quarters we played very well,” Vaanhold said. “The fourth quarter, I think we were exhausted, or like, we didn’t really fight or foul anymore. It was not really good. At the end, we get tired. We need to see that we can keep going.”

The Flames grabbed the fifth goal in the third quarter. And then after that, it was mostly a game of strategic possession.

“Liberty is a strong team,” said Villanova’s Head Coach Joanie Milhous. “I think their corners were executed really, really, well. Those were very difficult to defend. They were executed perfectly.”

Villanova was ranked No. 1 in penalty corners entering the game. Liberty didn’t allow them any.

Milhous said she thought her “defense held strong,” but she wished she could take away the second quarter. The Wildcats, which lost its first home game, were overthinking possession in the fourth.

Liberty’s defense kept up with Nova’s adjustments, but players were visibly putting less energy into intercepting. Every time the Wildcats looked for the perfect entry into the circle, the Flames took one or two steps in the opposite direction, or they’d mark an attack player limiting lanes.

“We would try to change the point of attack and then we would force it in when we didn’t need to force it in,” Milhous said. “We just need to be a little bit more patient in our attacking end. Liberty did a really good job with their defensive center mid blocking up lanes of ours. And we just kept forcing those passes instead of working it around them. We hurt ourselves.”

Another thing Liberty took away from Villanova was the use of their speed.

“We know that this team has a lot of talent,” Milhous said. “They are special. They work their tails off. The difference is that they worked really hard and now we need to work smarter.”

Liberty wasn’t giving up the ball as often as Nova did. They had corners, and they showcased speed.

“I think we are on the right track again,” Vaanhold said. “We had a few games that didn’t go amazing…every game is an improvement. A day without getting better is a day with waste. We keep trying to get 1 percent better.”

Liberty had 24 shots to Villanova’s 2, which made Liberty’s head coach happy.

“We spent a lot of time this week working on it,” Nikki Parsley-Blocker said. “We’ve been struggling in some attacking opportunities higher up the field. I thought we did exactly what we practiced and as a coach, I couldn’t be any happier that they did something like that after we practiced it all week.”

The Flames set high standards, she said. There’s a lot more going on than meets the eye. They talk about a “six second regain,” she said.

“So, we want to regain our defensive structure after we make a turnover,” she said. “And I felt like from that standpoint, from a physical standpoint, they didn’t stop working hard. But, from an external standpoint, we weren’t on our best for something bigger than this game.”

And even though she said she’s ascribing to the philosophy of taking one day at a time, Parsley-Blocker is not shy to say she wants to be the No. 1 seed in the Big East, as well as National Champions.

Liberty fell to Northwestern in 2021 in the Division I National Championship.

“We really try to not get focused on four weeks from now,” she said. “We take care of what we can in this moment and put ourselves in a position to make us most successful. The game I’m most excited for is the next one. We have to take care of every single one of these conference games to get us there.”

Villanova plays at Towson Sunday, Oct. 9. And Liberty hosts Louisville.

Flames: 5

  • Goals – Emily Dykema (1), Bethany Dykema (1), Vaanhold, (2), Daniella Rhodes (1)
  • Assists – Jodie Conolly (1), Reagan Underwood (1), Rhodes (1),Vaanhold (1), Pima Iturraspe (1), Ellie Livingston (1)
  • Shots – 24
  • Penalty corners – 6
  • Saves – Irigoyen Iritxity (1)

Wildcats: 0

  • Goals – 0
  • Assists – 0
  • Shots – 2
  • Penalty corners – 0
  • Saves – Emma Leppert (6), Claire Borman (4) team (1)
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