The Wake Forest women’s soccer team acquired its first loss on Friday in the ACC opener against Clemson.
The Tigers, ranked No. 13 nationally, established control of the ball immediately and wasted no time taking shots. While the Demons Deacons were able to get into the goal box a fair amount by finding gaps in Clemson’s defense, they were rarely able to secure striking opportunities.
Normally averaging over nine first-period shots per game this season, the Deacs only put up four against Clemson goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan. As she booted the ball, created opportunities for midfielders and made remarkable saves, Sheridan seemed incredibly confident in the goal. Wake Forest hadn’t yet seen such a commanding goalie this season.
Wake Forest midfielder Bayley Feist attributed the offensive shortcoming to the Clemson defenders’ impressive power in their clears.
“Their center backs have enormous ball skills,” said Feist. “Their range of kicks is just huge.”
The Deacs and the Tigers did not allow a goal in the first period from either side.
Going into the second half, the Tigers increased both their pace and offensive pressure.
“Clemson has a very physical team,” said sophomore Peyton Perea. “They’re always going to try to be the first to those 50/50s. I think it was definitely a wake-up call compared to the non-conference games.”
After a questionable foul on Wake Forest, Clemson senior Claire Wagner sent the free kick to forward Miranda Weslake, who headed it over Preston’s head and into the goal.
Just six minutes later, Jenna Weston doubled the score by heading a long throw-in from Sam Staab into the net.
“Their strengths are in set plays,” said head coach Tony da Luz. “They’re a team that plays very directly and tries to hit it out of bounds down at your end.”
Clemson had both the free kick and long throw-in plays ready to go for this game, and they managed to execute perfectly.
Instead of putting their heads down, the Deacs fought harder than ever.
“When we went down a couple of goals, we had to pick up the intensity. We tried to keep to our style and play the ball around,” Perea said.
Wake Forest starting taking more risks, pushing the defense forward and getting the ball to Perea whenever possible. Sheridan, however, anticipated when Perea would strike and was ready to catch the shot no matter where in the goal it was headed.
When Perea took possession again, she was dragged down by Claire Wagner, who received a warranted yellow card. After the free kick, Bayley Feist sent a mighty header past defenders and towards the goal. Sheridan was unable to get a hand on the ball, but as it looked like it was flying into the net, it grazed the crossbar and bounced to the left where it was cleared by the Tigers.
Wake Forest got the ball back immediately and tried again. In the 83rd minute, Perea sent a long, unassisted shot through the hands of Sheridan for Wake Forest’s first and overdue goal.
In the remaining seven minutes, the Deacs and the Tigers battled for another shot with great urgency.
Both defenses, however, remained too solid to allow another point to be scored. Although Wake Forest and Clemson each had 15 shots for the night, the Clemson Tigers walked away from the close match with a win.
“I’m really proud. We went down two goals against a highly ranked team, and we didn’t fold. The kids really pushed hard and got the goal back. We could’ve tied the game just as easily, and that’s very encouraging,” da Luz said. “You’re not gonna go undefeated in the ACC, but you have to keep going.”
The Deacs will keep fighting on Thursday, Sept. 22 at Florida State.