GREENSBORO, N.C. – No. 19 UNCG used a pair of first-half goals and a dominant defensive effort to clinch at least a share of its fifth straight Southern Conference regular-season crown and lock up the No. 1 seed in the upcoming SoCon Championship with a 2-0 win over Western Carolina on Thursday.
The victory also sent out the Spartan seniors in style. Prior to the game, UNCG honored seniors Katie Evans, Jenn Partenheimer, Jen Rincon and student assistant coach Barrie Vogel, who spent the first three years of her collegiate tenure as a goalkeeper for the Spartans before injuries cut her career short.
With its 11th straight win, UNCG improved to 14-1-1 on the season and 9-0-0 in the SoCon. Western Carolina fell to 5-9-3 overall and 2-5-2 in the league. The Spartans' current winning streak is one shy of the school record set in 2007.
Junior Cat Barnekow scored her fourth goal of the season in the 18th minute, collecting a ball in the midfield and blowing past a couple of Western defenders before depositing the ball into the lower left corner of the goal to put UNCG ahead 1-0.
Sophomore Tabitha Padgett made it a two-goal game just before halftime, notching her 10th goal of the season at the 44:13 mark. Freshman Stine Schoening lofted a ball in from the right wing that Padgett nodded on from inside the 6-yard box.
That was all the offense UNCG's defense would need. The starting unit of keeper Kelsey Kearney and defenders Evans, Schoening, Morgan Kennedy and Stephanie Partenheimer, as well as defensive reserves Nicole Danford, Casey Godwin and Lauren Lover, limited the Catamounts to just one shot and no corner kicks on the evening.
Western's lone attempt came just after halftime, as Christine Kaznowski got off a shot that Kearney easily wrapped up.
UNCG outshot the Catamounts 18-1 on the evening, with Jenn Partenheimer and Jaimey Etten leading the way with four each.
The Spartans had plenty of chances to add to their lead, but couldn't put another one away. Late in the first half, Barnekow put a cross into the box that an unmarked Padgett just couldn't get a body on. Kristen Schmidbauer seemed poised to score her seventh goal of the season in the opening period, but her looping line drive just clanked off the cross bar and Lauren Hein's follow attempt went wide.
The second half saw another near goal for Padgett, as a pass found her feet just a touch behind her in the 6-yard box. Etten also came tantalizingly close, but WCU keeper Caitlin Williams was just able to tip her direct free kick from about 25 yards out over the crossbar.
Kearney finished with one save for her eighth shutout of the season, extending her UNCG career record to 27 and pulling her into a tie for third place in SoCon history. She now trails only Williams, who has 28 for her career, and SoCon record-holder Andie Hinshaw, who had 36 for Furman from 2002-05.
Williams made six saves on the evening.
The win improved UNCG's senior class to 59-17-5 in its career, just two wins shy of matching the school record for wins over a four-year span. This year's senior class also improved its school-record winning percentage to .759.
With one more win, or losses by The Citadel and Samford on Friday, the Spartans would lock up the regular-season SoCon title outright. Both sets of Bulldogs enter play Friday with 6-2-0 ledgers in league play, meaning either or both could still pull into a tie with UNCG should they win out and UNCG loses its remaining two games. The Spartans beat both teams, however, giving UNCG the top seed in the SoCon tournament regardless of whether there is a tie at the top of the standings.
Thursday's win also moves UNCG's home record to 8-0-0, giving the Spartans a chance at the first perfect home slate in school history when they host an as-yet-undetermined opponent in the first round of the tournament on Oct. 31.
The Spartans return to action on Sunday at Appalachian State. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. in Boone, N.C.
UNCG 2, Western Carolina 0
Goals by period 1
Western Carolina.... 0 0 - 0
UNCG................ 2 0 - 2
Shots: Western Carolina 1, UNCG 18
Saves: Western Carolina 6 (Caitlin Williams 6), UNCG 1 (Kelsey Kearney 1)
Corner kicks: Western Carolina 0, UNCG 4
Fouls: Western Carolina 5, UNCG 8
- UNCG -