Simon Riddiough is unequivocal in his belief that Sabrina Bryan is a foundational player for the Hofstra women's soccer team.
And she repaid his faith with what could be a seminal moment in the program’s history.
Bryan’s goal 3:22 into overtime lifted the Pride to a pulsating 1-0 win over Loyola Chicago in the first round of the Women’s College Cup Saturday at Hofstra.
With the win, the Pride (16-3-2, 7-0-2) advanced to a second round matchup next weekend against tournament overall top seed Stanford, who routed Prairie View A&M, 15-0. It marks the second straight year and the fifth time overall that the Pride has qualified for the second round.
“All eyes will be on that game,” Riddiough said.
And it’s because the Pride has a game-changing factor in Bryan, who finished with seven shots, including five on goal while never leaving the field.
“She’s realized how tremendous a player she is and how influential she is for our team.,” Riddiough said. “Her work ethic is off the charts,” Riddiough said . “She’s a humble, very humble, superstar. And when you’ve got that kind of effort from the superstar players, the rest of the team just get carried along with the wave.”
Following 90 minutes in which both teams traded near misses, the junior from Cecil, Pennsylvania, accepted a chip pass from Bella Richards at the top of the box early in the overtime session, then danced around a Loyola defender before getting off a shot which tucked inside the right post to set off an on-field celebration.
Distilled to its very essence, it was an example of a player making a play to win a game.
“She got loose,” Loyola (14-5-1, 7-0-0) coach Barry Bimbi said wryly. “It’s a very good player making a play.”
Hofstra had chances in the first half to open up a lead, as they outshot the Ramblers 6-4, and had 4-1 advantage in shots on goal. But the teams went into halftime deadlocked with no score. Which had almost everything to do with the play of Loyola goaltender Grace Droessler, who finished with five saves.
“It was her good zone that she was in,” Bimbi said. “She’s just a competitor.”
As strong as the Pride were in the first half, Loyola matched it in the second. Even though the Pride outshot the Ramblers 8-6 in the second half, Loyola forced Skylar Kuzmich to make three saves. Whereas she only had to make one stop in the first.
“I was a little nervous before the game,” said Kuzmich, who finished with four saves. “The whole stigma of NCAA, huge game. But once we got into it, it felt normal.”
And to hear Riddiough speak, Kuzmich and her teammates’ mental toughness as well as defensive structure were significant factors.
“We preach team defense,” Riddiough said. “You saw that today. You saw a team that [bent] but didn’t break. You’re going to find that in NCAA soccer. And we found a way to grind out the win.”
The game marked the first time Hofstra hosted a Women’s College Cup match. It had hosted men’s tournament games in 2005, 2006, and 2015.
“Being able to host the first round was a huge deal for us,” Bryan said. “We had the whole Hofstra community behind us.”