Loss leaves Lions down, but not out

The torch has been passed.

Searching for a fourth straight New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) title, the Lions ran into a roadblock in Glassboro, N.J., Nov. 5 as eventual tournament winner Rowan University dropped the Lions 2-1. The crushing loss ended the Lions’ streak of three conference tournament wins, but the team still earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Division III tournament, which will kick off this weekend.

With their automatic bid, the Profs will host a portion of the bracket when they open up against SUNY-Oneonta this weekend. The Lions will travel to Skidmore College, where they face Moravian College Saturday.

With the NJAC rivals on opposite ends of the bracket, they can only have a rematch in the tournament final.

“Our loss at Rowan was very disappointing, especially considering our record this year didn’t guarantee us a postseason bid without winning the conference,” senior midfielder Jillian Casey said. “Not only have we won the NJAC tournament the past three years, but we have made it to the final four each of those years as well, so it was very difficult to face the fact that our season may have been cut short so suddenly.”

Rowan was aggressive on their home turf, slowing the Lions’ normally furious offensive attack. Two of the Profs’ rookies put the ball in the net early, setting the tone for the evening. Freshman midfielder Nina Fragoso found classmate and midfielder Veronica Rhea in the box halfway through the first period, and the rookie rocketed the pass behind the Lions’ junior goalkeeper Jessica Clarke to put the Profs up 1-0.

After the opening score, the match became a defensive battle that saw the Profs successfully limit the Lions’ shot count. Throughout the season, the Lions have dominated the shots-on-goal category, chipping away at opposing keepers on the way to victory. But the Profs outshot their rivals from the College six to four in the first half and 13-11 overall.

Rowan junior Sarah Volkomer, who was honored as the NJAC Goalkeeper of the Year, frustrated the Lions for the second time this season, snaring nine saves on the night. Clarke only managed four saves, allowing two goals on Wednesday.

The second Prof score came with only 2:48 to play, killing any hope the Lions had of forcing overtime. Sophomore forward Jess Babice found the back of the net when she went one on one with Clarke and blasted a shot into the upper right hand corner to make it 2-0.

Lion senior forward Jamie Kunkel gave her squad a chance with 22 seconds remaining, beating Volkomer for the second time this season off an assist from Casey, but the clock ran out on the Lions’ title chances before they could score again.

Wednesday’s semifinal win was the Profs’ first over the Lions since 1996. The teams tied 1-1 during a midseason encounter where Kunkel became the first player to slip a goal past Volkomer all year. Rowan (15-0-2) shut out top-seeded Montclair State University on Saturday to win the conference crown.

While the sting from the defeat remains, Casey says Monday’s announcement that the team would play on reenergized the Lions.

“When we found out that we received a bid to the tournament, the team was absolutely ecstatic,” Casey said. “We’re very excited for the opportunity and looking forward to extending the season as long as possible.”

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