After pulling off an impressive string of victories, including defeating undefeated No. 2-ranked Williams College, the Lions are headed to the national semifinals of the NCAA Division III Tournament.
For the veterans, it’s another chance at a National Championship.
“It feels great to be going to San Antonio for the Final Four,” junior forward Briann McDonough said. “This is something we have been working for and wanting all season.”
And for the first-year players, it’s early success that can be beneficial to such a young career.
“I’m so excited to be playing at this level with a team filled with such talented athletes, especially as a freshman it makes it that more memorable,” freshman forward Allyson Anderson said.
Nevertheless, the Lions had their chance to advance to the semifinals by first upsetting the 19-1 Ephs of Williams College on their home field in Williamstown, Mass. by a final score of 1-0.
The win meant a little extra, as the Lions were knocked out of the tournament by the Ephs just one year ago in the round of 16.
“I absolutely think that it was appropriate for us to knock them out in the same round just as they did last year,” Anderson said. “This was our chance to regain what the team lost last year and it was a perfect way to regain respect.”
Anderson put the only goal in net in this very defensive matchup. Her unassisted score at 64:56 was her eighth of the year, including her third game-winner.
Anderson has been the offensive spark plug for her team, as she has tallied one point in each of the Lions’ first four tournament games. She has two goals and two assists thus far.
“My goal, along with the effort from every player on that field goes to show you that we fight for everything until the job gets done,” Anderson said.
The defense provided a necessary spark of its own, as senior goalkeeper Jessica Clarke notched a season high nine saves to keep the high-powered Ephs offense silent for 90 minutes.
“Williams is a great program and we are happy with how we performed to advance,” Clarke said. “Our defense has been stepping up tremendously.”
The team made their biggest collective impact the following day. The Lions advanced to the Final Four for the fifth time in seven years after edging out Ithaca College 1-0 in the quarterfinals.
The lone goal of this contest was off the foot of McDonough, who added yet another heroic play to her resume.
The junior avoided the oncoming Ithaca junior goalie Jessica Platt and placed the ball into the net on a well-timed pass from Anderson.
The goal at 19:13 was McDonough’s eighth of the year, and her team-leading fifth game-winner.
“I don’t really see myself as the hero,” McDonough said, who played on the semifinals teams in 2006 and 2007. “All my goals come from all my teammates working hard and me being lucky enough to get it past the keeper.”
The defense did their part as well, and they did exactly in this game what they’ve done for the past 702 minutes and 33 seconds — not allow a goal.
Much of that is due to the stellar play of Clarke, who, with the win, recorded her 16th shutout of the season. She had five saves in this contest.
Including their tournament games, the Lions have put up eight shutouts in a row.
“I am happy with the streak, but that does not compare to my excitement about the Final Four,” Clarke said.
After advancing to this point by virtue of their win over the College’s New Jersey Athletic Conference rival Rowan University 2-1, the No. 15-ranked Bombers end their season at 16-5-1.
This win is certainly the Lions’ biggest of the year, but their next game may be against their toughest opponent to date. The College will go head-to-head with the top-ranked Falcons of Messiah College, who are 23-0-1 on the season. These two powerhouses will play at Blossom Soccer Stadium in San Antonio, TX on Friday, Dec. 4 at a time to be announced.
The two teams are no strangers to each other. The Lions defeated the Falcons in semifinals in 2006, with the Falcons gaining revenge the following year in the exact same round.
“A bunch of us remember losing to Messiah in the semifinals and it is in the back of our mind,” McDonough said. “But overall, we are all just excited to be playing in the semifinals and hope to advance to the finals.”
After advancing to the finals in two of the past seven years, the 20-2-1 Lions know that this is a spot that they cannot take for granted.
“Our goal of achieving a national championship still has not been achieved,” Clarke said. “Although we have been there numerous times it is still not enough and keeps us hungry and motivated.”
They have taken down giants before, so if the Lions can upset the best Division III team in the nation, just one more win would secure the program’s first national championship in nine years.