For the second straight year, the College’s women’s soccer team finished second in the NCAA Division III national tournament, falling this time to Wheaton College (Ill.) 2-0 on Saturday in Florida.
The Lions finished out their season at 18-2-3, with both losses coming at the hands of the Thunder.
“I feel for the kids (since they had) their hearts ripped out two years in a row,” Lions head coach Joe Russo said. “It just wasn’t our day. You have to give credit to Wheaton; they are a very good team.”
Disney’s Wide World of Sports in Florida played host to the Lions’ final two games.
Both Wheaton goals were scored in the first half by junior forward Sarah Richardson. The first came in the 16th minute, when Richardson buried a shot into the net from the right side of the penalty box. Then, with five minutes left in the half, Richardson settled a cross in the middle of the box, turned, and fired a shot to net her 21st goal of the season.
There were a couple of scoring opportunities for the Lions, despite being limited to only three shots on goal for the game. Junior defender Courtney Krol, always a threat to score off direct kicks, just missed one high from 35 yards out. Also, a good shot from freshman forward Briann McDonough was denied by a diving save from junior Thunder keeper Kristin Eggert.
For the Lions, freshman keeper Jessica Clarke finished the game with four saves, while Eggert recorded three saves for the Thunder.
The Lions ensured their place in the NCAA Division III Finals by winning three games earlier in the tournament.
In a rematch of last year’s NCAA Championship game, the Lions got some revenge by defeating Messiah College 1-0 in double overtime on Friday. The game-winning goal, scored by Krol, came two minutes into the second overtime. Krol played a long ball from midfield into Messiah’s penalty box that bounced over the head of the keeper and into the vacant goal. Although not conventional, the goal gave the Lions a shot for the championship.
“It was a strange ending without a doubt,” Russo said.
On Nov. 19, the Lions defeated Amherst College at home in a dramatic penalty-kick shootout.
With the NCAA Sectional Final game scoreless through 110 minutes of soccer, both teams sent out five kickers and a keeper to decide the contest. Clarke dominated in the spotlight, shutting down the first two Amherst shooters.
“I could tell which way both of them were going to shoot from looking at their eyes and the way their hips were,” Clarke said. “I was happy that I could help my team in the way that I did.”
Meanwhile, Krol, sophomore midfielder Erin Cunliffe and freshman midfielder Kristina Shemming each found the back of the net on the first three Lions penalty kicks.
Clarke watched as freshman midfielder Meg Murphy sent the third shot for Amherst flying off the crossbar, giving the Lions the win.
The Lions were victorious over Middlebury College 1-0 in their second game of the tournament. Krol launched another long direct kick from 25 yards out that sailed just over the keeper’s head and under the crossbar.
“I tried to put it on goal,” Krol said. “After I hit it I knew it had a real good chance of going in.”
The goal came 28 minutes into the contest and would be the deciding one for the Lions.
Clarke made three saves in the game, while sophomore keeper Adele Plunkett turned away eight shots for Middlebury.
Sophomore midfielder Laura Delaney, junior forward Kristin Cubicciotti and sophomore forward Jamie Kunkel were named to the All-Tournament Team in recognition of their excellent play.
Next season, the Lions will only lose one player, senior forward Christine Mullin, to graduation. Keeping most of the team intact and gaining another year of experience, the team looks to make another run at a national title next year.
“Playing in the NCAA tournament is by far the most exciting part of the season,” junior forward Dana DiBruno said. “As a team, we are confident in our abilities and have gained more experience playing (in) the tournament.”