It’s easy to assume most contests for Tim Rooney’s Trailblazers are going to be one-sided affairs. Throughout regular season play, the women’s soccer side has outscored their opponents 91-4, with really only one really close contest, a nailbiter, a 1-0 victory over local rival SWIC.
So after Boitumelo “B” Rabale added to her already jaw-dropping goal tally in just three minutes of play on Sunday, October 12, one could be forgiven for assuming this encounter with the Cougars of Illinois Central College would follow the lead of the many L&C women’s soccer blowouts this season.
That proved not to be the case. The Cougar defense shelled up, and made it difficult for the Trailblazers to find space in the attacking third of the pitch. The Trailblazers also didn’t look their sharpest in the first half, miscommunicating on passes, having trouble breaking down Illinois Central’s “ten behind the ball” defending approach.
Many teams have attempted to lock down and focus on defending against Tim Rooney’s Trailblazers this season. Generally, this hasn’t panned out well, and often backfires for the teams that employ this method. Players have a natural desire to try to move the ball upfield, and when all the team’s players are back in the defensive third, attempting to stymie the other team, there’s no one for a player with the ball to pass to, often leading to a hopeless clearance that tends to fall to the feet of a Trailblazer defender.
The Trailblazers took the 1-0 lead from the early goal into the halftime break, and well into the second 45. L&C spent the first 20 of that 45 prying at the ICC defense. Against the run of play, the Cougars equalized just past the halfway mark of the second half, a gorgeous curling free kick from ICC freshman Emma Goddard flew above Trailblazer goalkeeper Mercedes King’s outstretched arms and into the net, bringing ICC level and completely changing the match. Now L&C had to push, more than merely prod.
Notable in this match, and others involving the Trailblazers star Boitumelo Rabale this season, was the match referee seemingly not knowing what to make of the Lesotho national. Rabale is generally a bit bigger and stronger than her opponents, and shoves and kicks from smaller defenders that would be fouls against other smaller players are often not called as such when Rabale is the victim.
Sure enough, Rabale’s quality shone through a mere 12 minutes after ICC equalized. She slalomed through the Cougar box full of defenders and passed the ball into the corner of the net for her second on the day. Following the goal, Rabale dropped back and played a more defensive role, offering some help to the Trailblazer defense as ICC pushed the play more towards the end of the match hoping for a draw. Their efforts were too little, too late, and L&C held on to win, 2-1 the final.
Tim Rooney and his side will now prep for the main focus of their season, postseason. A top 10 team in NJCAA Division 1, the Trailblazers have all the qualities and talent to make another National Championship run. The journey begins with regionals, to determine the NJCAA Region 24 Champion, then District Championships, where the champions of several Regions meet, and finally the 8-team National Championships, where the 8 District Champs battle for the ultimate crown of NJCAA Division I National Champion.
For more information on women’s soccer and all Trailblazer sports, visit LC.edu/athletics.