GREENVILLE, N.C. – After falling behind 1-0 less than five minutes into the second half, the East Carolina soccer team responded with two quick goals to defeat Virginia Commonwealth 2-1 at Bunting Field on Friday afternoon in the season-opening game for both teams. Senior tri-captain Jessica Swanson netted the game-winning goal at 60:47 into the contest after freshman Rachel Wechsler had the tying goal just over five minutes earlier. The triumph marks the third straight year in which the Pirates have won their first game of the season.
With the victory, ECU’s program record is now at an even .500 for the just the second time in its existence at 131-131-30. The only other time the soccer program was ever at .500 was before last season’s Conference USA Championship Game in which East Carolina lost to Memphis 4-1, and dipped back below .500.
“The thing I’m most happy about tonight is that we came back after being down 1-0 to a very good VCU team,” head coach Rob Donnenwirth stated. “After they scored their goal, we were able to turn on the pressure. I thought our forwards played well and were causing VCU some problems and our goalkeepers also did a nice job.”
In the first half, the teams managed to combine for just six shots, with the Pirates taking five of them. Azania registered the only shot for VCU at the 27:30 mark but East Carolina starting goalkeeper Jen Kurowicki made the save. Amanda Malkiewicz and Chrissy Gratz took two shots in the half for ECU while Wechsler tallied the other. The Pirates' best scoring chance in the opening period came 20 minutes in when Malkiewicz broke loose but was stopped by VCU keeper Kate Hudson.
The Rams started fast in the second half, taking two close-in shots just two minutes into the frame. East Carolina goalie Berit Hansen, who started the second half in place of Kurowicki, stopped a shot by Jasmine Riley and then received some help from the goal post when VCU hit it trying to stuff home the rebound. Hansen stopped Riley again just over two minutes later, but this time Riley collected her own rebound and sent it past Hansen to put the Rams up 1-0 at 49:30.
East Carolina did not wait long to respond, as 5:50 later Wechsler scored her first career goal, knocking in a rebound off a shot from Malkiewicz. Gratz was also credited with an assist on the goal.
“Rachel Wechsler covers a lot of ground and passes very well,” Donnenwirth said. “She had her goal and then the assist on Swanson’s game-winner. A great job by a freshman.”
After the Wechsler goal the offense continued as Swanson received Wechsler’s throw in and headed the ball past Hudson for the game-winner at 60:47. The goal was the fifth game-winner for Swanson in her career.
The defense took over from there, as it held the Rams without a shot after Riley’s goal. Hansen picked up the win, her first career, in goal for the Pirates as she made two saves.
The Pirates now have nine days off before heading to Boiling Springs to face Gardner-Webb at 2 p.m. Last season in Greenville, ECU downed the Bulldogs 2-0 in the first-ever meeting between the two programs.