By Michael Battista
The women’s soccer team’s NCAA journey started and ended this past weekend as the Lions beat Marywood University, 7-0, during the tournament’s first round on Saturday, Nov. 12, before falling to Brandeis University, 1-1, in penalty shootouts during the Round of 32 on Sunday, Nov. 13.
The team seemed poised to strike back after a crushing defeat to Rowan University in the New Jersey Athletic Conference Final two weeks ago, and started out strong against a Pacers unit who had gone 11-5-2 during their season and won the Colonial States Athletic Conference Tournament title.
It didn’t take long for the 16-1-1 Lions to take control. Senior midfielder Marissa Scognamiglio took only seven minutes to give her team the lead, 2-0. Just before the fifth minute, Scognamiglio headed in a corner off of junior midfielder Jessica Goldman before heading in another kick — this time a free kick — just under a minute later again from Goldman.
“A big part of our game plan today was to come off strong in the first five to 10 minutes of the game,” Scognamiglio said.
“We just kept getting a few chances, Jessy put two great balls into the box, and I was kind of in the right spot,” she said.
That intensity didn’t stop after the initial first few minutes, as the Lions controlled the ball for the better part of the game.
The Pacers defense showed spurts of amazing plays, such as great defensive walls and swarms during corner kicks, but the squad wasn’t able to keep the Lions from reaching the zone giving them multiple chances to connect. In the 14th minute, and after a tripping was called inside the Pacer’s box, junior midfielder Elizabeth Thoresen converted a penalty kick opportunity into a goal.
While the experienced talent of the roster started the scoring for the team, it was the young Lion cubs who would seal the deal and impress during the remaining time.
Freshman forward Gianna Zarra not only scored her first collegiate goal in the 36th minute off an assist from junior midfielder Kayla Bertolino, netting an impressive goal that sailed just over the fingertips of the Pacer’s goalie, but also slammed in her second goal in the 47th minute.
“It felt pretty good,” Zarra said. “I’ve had some pretty close chances this year and they just haven’t gone away. So getting that one goal got me really motivated and just helped get another one. I think it just helped pick the team up, too.”
Rounding out for the Lions was freshman midfielder Joriam Rivera off an assist from freshman midfielder Despina Lianidis, who got passed the Pacer’s goalie as she came out to challenge in the 57th minute, before Lianidis netted a goal in the 82nd off an assist from freshman midfielder Alexa Pestritto.
The latter’s goal was an example of great teamwork, as the pass in the box caused the goalie and defense to shift giving Lianidis a clear shot for the back of the net.
Head coach Joe Russo gave many of the freshmen a chance to play in this game, including goalkeeper Nicole DiPasquale. Even without the normal starters, the team kept the Pacers back and didn’t give them a shot throughout the game.
“I think it helps boost our confidence and ultimately it helps for the games to come and the team just develops better as a whole,” Zarra said.
“I think it’s great that we had such a big win today,” Scognamiglio said. “Now we take it in for a couple of minutes, but our focus immediately goes to tomorrow’s game and what we have to do to prepare for that because this game really means nothing in the grand scheme of things.”
After winning its game against Virginia Wesleyan College immediately after the Lions game, 3-0, Brandeis University stood before the College in the Round of 32 with a record of 14-3-3.
The match started of with the Judges making a statement, traveling downfield and taking two hard shots at goal in under one minute. The Lions defense was tested throughout, with the early game being spent mostly in their zone. In a rare feat this season, the College was even on shots in the first half with the Judges, both taking four a piece and was even outshot after the final whistle, 13-10.
In an evenly paced match, Russo said both teams got chances and didn’t let up during the contest.
“I thought there was two even teams that kind of battled back and forth,” Russo said. “I think for the most part both teams had some pretty good chances… So it was back and forth.”
In the 26th minute, Thoresen was able to connect off a pass from senior forward Christine Levering. The pair snuck the ball passed the Judge’s defense and beat the goalie to give their team the lead, 1-0.
From there, the game was a back-and-forth struggle throughout, as both sides tried to get the upper edge with aggressive challenges and slick ball maneuvers.
In the second half, the Brandeis defense was able to neutralize the College’s offense for long periods of time, giving them time to coordinate chances. The Lions began to hone in on defense to hold back the Judges.
It wasn’t enough, as the superb play calling allowed Brandeis to run the ball down the sideline and cross to the top of the box. While the defense did block the pass, the loose ball set up junior forward Samantha Schwartz to slam a goal from 15 yards out into the bottom left corner passed senior goalkeeper Jessica Weeder.
The score remained the same after two 10-minute overtime periods, leaving the game to be recorded as a tie and the winner and advancing team to be decided by penalty kicks.
The Lions started out strong, with Weeder stopping the Judges first attempt and Goldman making hers. But the Judges battled back making their next four shots and stopping two of the next three from the Lions giving them the win and eliminating the Lions in the second round of NCAA play for the second year in a row.
The Lions season is now over, with a final record of 17-1-2. Russo said the team’s goal for next season is already clear.
“We do what we always do, we continue to get better,” Russo said. “Attack the off-season, we have our away training and our fitness and all that stuff that we need to do. Kind of get right back into the cycle of things.”