Laura Ortiz wrapped up her decorated Niagara soccer career when she graduated this spring, and while her talented roommate Eva Bachmann was back in the fold, another Purple Eagles attacker would need to step up to fill the void left by the Spanish playmaker.
On Friday against Big 4 rival St. Bonaventure, that was Canadian freshman Bayley Sullivan, who came off the bench to score in Niagara's 2-0 blanking of the Bonnies at Niagara Field. The Purple Eagles evened their record at 1-1, while the Bonnies fell to 0-3 on the young season.
Bachmann tallied the other goal for Peter Veltri's side, while freshman Sabrina Locas and sophomore Shania van Nuland shared the shutout in goal, stopping four shots in total.
"We're not there yet," cautioned Veltri, who's in the process of weaving nine players into the lineup who weren't available last season. "We're still trying to figure out what each piece can do - it's only our third game - we only had one scrimmage unfortunately this year, and this being our second season game, so we're still trying to figure out everybody's role in this."
*1-0, Niagara, 56': After generating scoring chances with regularity through the first half, Niagara broke through just before the hour mark behind a well-placed Bachmann rip from the edge of the 18-yard box.
Intrepid sophomore Hailey Bicknell, who buzzed around the offensive third throughout the evening, picked out the goal-scorer in the half-circle outside the box; Bachmann picked her head up and stung a low drive that bounced once before denting the lower left corner of Lauren Malcolm's net.
*2-0, Niagara, 71': A driven corner kick caused chaos in St. Bonaventure's 18-yard box, with Malcolm sprinting off her line to try to parry, then several defenders clamoring to clear from danger. A deflection bounced to Bayley Sullivan, who hit her right-footed shot first-time past a defender - the lone barrier blocking the gaping goal.
Sullivan was mobbed by her teammates after the tally - "I've never felt so loved for getting a goal," she noted - and the Oshawa, Ont. native processed her thoughts a bit after the match.
"I couldn't stop beaming, smiling crazy, it was the best feeling ever," Sullivan shared. "On a home game, it was awesome."
"It was like slow-motion," the midfielder added, in describing the circumstances of her finish. "I just wanted to hoof it in and make sure it got in there, make sure I didn't miss."
Veltri had plenty of positive words for his freshman's performance and prospects moving forward.
"Lively, that's the word we'd use to describe her," the Niagara head coach said. "She's the kid who doesn't stop smiling. She brings something different to the field, a very dynamic, quick, aggressive style that sometimes causes problems for the opponent because they're not used to seeing that. Right now she's a great change of pace for us."
GAME FLOW: Niagara owned the three best opportunities of the first half, with Bicknell springing Kelsey Araujo on a breakaway in the second minute, but Bonaventure keeper Malcolm was quick off her line to narrow the angle, and Araujo's shot rolled wide of the target.
The Purple Eagles continued to pour on the pressure, as Courtney Betts' service from the left wing bounced to Bachmann, who patiently waited for a defender to commit before snapping a shot off the crossbar. Roughly 10 minutes later, Sullivan came off the bench to boom a 20-yard strike off the underside of Malcolm's crossbar.
Bicknell's shiftiness on the dribble and Araujo's sheer pace kept St. Bonaventure on its heels throughout the match, although the Bonnies' Brittany Tubiolo and Maddie Mason made key blocks during a sequence in the first half to keep the game scoreless. Senior center back Sydney Cassagnol organized a defense that held to the bend-but-don't-break philosophy deep into the match.
Niagara University: Sabrina Locas; Selena Mangoni, Breanne Guevara, Amelia Gulley, Hadley Bucken; Courtney Betts, Eva Bachmann, Naomi Giovino, Lauren Testa; Kelsey Araujo, Hailey Bicknell. Subs used: Kelsey Lafferty, Bayley Sullivan, Shania van Nuland, Sophie Connor, Mackenzie Mix, Andrea Visca, Alexis Horwedel, Lilly Stowell.
St. Bonaventure University: Lauren Malcolm; Brittany Tubiolo, Maddie Mason, Sydney Cassagnol, Tori Bernardo; Rachel Collins; Bella May, Sabrina Sousa-Sampson, Marley Jarvis, Alex Thompson; Sydney Cerza. Subs used: Jessica Scruggs, Bella Marra, Mariah Marrero, Gretta LaCouture, Alex Pochop, Kylie Terwiliger, Isabelle LaBarbera.
Roster note: St. Bonaventure captain Danielle Vis was unavailable due to a quad injury. The timetable for her return is uncertain, but it seems likely she'll be ready before conference play.
NEXT HOME MATCHES: Niagara hosts Fairleigh Dickinson at 7 p.m. Sept. 8, while the Bonnies return home for a 1 p.m. contest Aug. 27 vs. Kent State.
Still to come: Season outlooks for both the Niagara and St. Bonaventure women, as well as all of the other Big 4 teams.