Lions set for semifinal showdown with Rowan

The women’s soccer team woke from its late-season slumber at just the right time, roaring to life in a pair of shutout victories that propelled the Lions into the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) tournament semifinals.

After blanking the University of Rutgers-Newark Scarlet Raiders 4-0 on Oct 29 to lock up the third seed in the conference tourney, the Lions opened their playoff schedule by running over the William Paterson University (WPU) Pioneers 4-0 to advance to last night’s second-round tilt with Rowan University.

On Saturday afternoon, the three-time defending conference champs showed they’re serious about defending their title, jumping out to an early 2-0 lead against the visiting Pioneers. After a WPU miscue led to an own goal five minutes into the quarterfinal contest, senior midfielder Coleen Weber snatched away a Pioneer clearing attempt and netted her fifth goal of the season to put the Lions up 2-0.

WPU’s junior goalkeeper Meghan Baker stopped the Lions from blowing the game wide open in the first half, using her quickness to make three diving stops before the intermission. Baker tallied seven saves on the day but got little help from the Pioneers’ stagnant offense.

Senior forward Jamie Kunkel put the game out of reach early in the second half when she beat Baker on a pass from freshman defenseman Annie McCarthy to make it 3-0.

Pioneer senior forward Amanda Kurdyla, sensing the clock ticking on the final game of her career, tried desperately to fire a ball past the Lions’ junior keeper Jessica Clarke, but the tough-as-nails goalkeeper denied her on two separate occasions. Kurdyla found herself all alone in the box against Clarke with just 23 minutes remaining, but the junior made a leaping save. Moments later, Kurdyla attacked the net once more, only to be stopped by Clarke, who had four saves in 90 minutes of work, earning her sixth shutout of the season.

The Lions locked up the third seed earlier in the week as they trounced the Scarlet Raiders 4-0 on Oct. 29. The College went for the throat, ruining Rutgers-Newark’s senior day by scoring twice in the opening 20 minutes. Junior Casey Caruso redirected a corner kick 13 minutes in to put the Lions ahead. Rookie McCarthy made it 2-0 a few moments later, firing a 25-yard missile into the back of the net.

The Scarlet Raiders looked to change the momentum in the second half when rookie goalkeeper

Kat Renteria blocked a penalty kick by Kunkel, but the persistent forward slipped the rebound past the young keeper, putting the Lions ahead 3-0. Senior forward Erin Cunliffe notched her team-leading 10th goal of the year later in the half, setting the final score.

The loss ended any hopes for the Scarlet Raiders, who have not advanced to the postseason in eight years to reach the NJAC tournament.

The Lions’ return to form against the Rutgers-Newark squad was spurred by a familiar statistical trend. Once again, the women’s soccer team managed to dominate time of possession and shots-on-goal, ticking off 23 attempts on the Scarlet Raiders’ rookie keeper, while the Rutgers crew only managed to return fire five times. Renteria, who has been one of the only bright spots for an otherwise abysmal Raiders-Newark squad, racked up 11 saves while under constant attack from the Lions.

The Lions took on rival Rowan last night in a semifinal matchup at the Profs’ Glassboro campus. Earlier in the year, the Lions and Profs battled to a 1-1 tie in Ewing that saw two of the NJAC’s top goalkeepers (Clarke and Profs’ senior stopper Sarah Volkomer) stifle all scoring attempts for nearly 90 minutes.

In that contest, Kunkel became the first player to sneak a ball past Volkomer on the year, and it’s not likely the Rowan keeper has forgotten the blemish on her record.

If the Lions escaped Tuesday’s hostile matchup with a win, they will face either Montclair State University or top-seeded Richard Stockton in the conference finals on Saturday.

James Queally can be reached at queally2@tcnj.edu.