By Michael Battista
The No. 3 nationally ranked women’s soccer team continued their undefeated streak this season, getting passed four opponents, including three New Jersey Athletic Conference teams.
The Lions started off with close 1-0 win over Gettysburg College on Oct. 4. The team then dispatched two NJAC teams in Ramapo College, 3-0, and Stockton University, 1-0, on Oct. 7 and Oct. 11, respectively. The team then began their regular season ending road trip on Saturday, Oct. 14 by winning an overtime nail biter against Montclair State University, 3-2.
In this span of games, the seniors have been making some of the biggest impacts for their team.
At a special ceremony prior to the match against Stockton University, the team honored the six seniors on the squad. Forwards Hannah Richman and Christine Levering, Midfielders Jessica Goldman, Kayla Bertolino and Elizabeth Thoresen and defender Kelly Wieczerzak were all praised for their commitment and multiple honors they have earned during their four plus year tenures.
Each senior Lion’s accomplishments were told to the crowd of 374. Things like Goldman’s first ever goal coming in her second game, Bertolino and Thoresen’s perfect starting records for the team and how Richman’s first game winning goal came only this season against York College.
“It’s so weird,” Bertolino said. “I’ve been through this a couple of years always as a underclassman and I didn’t exactly know what it would feel like. But it was awesome. All the underclassman put on a great (event), they decorated the locker room and put so much time into this and it was really nice to see them do that for us. But it’s just weird that this is all coming to an end, but it makes playing that much more worth it.”
In the team’s outing with the Gettysburg College Bullets at Lions Stadium, the game was close after 20 minutes of back and forth play. The Lions had only managed two shots and while the Bullets had miscues on the defensive side as well, kicking the ball backwards past their defenders.
The team’s big break came with chaos in the Bullets’ box, as the diving goalkeeper missed a cross from Bertolino and set up Goldman for a goal in the 21st minute.
During the game, the Bullets’ defensive efforts proved effective at isolating and cutting off players from making moves in their zone. Goldman and her team weren’t happy with how they played in the first half and even after pressing harder in the second half, she still saw missed opportunities.
“We need to have composure in the box and there were times where we could have shot and we passed or we passed and we gave it away or we hist the crossbar,” Goldman said. “I think some of it was unlucky and some of it was we need to have more composure in the box.”
Head coach Joe Russo praised Gettysburg’s coaching and defensive talent.
“I thought (The Bullets) looked really good in the back,” Russo said. “(They) Played really defensive minded with five backs so they were pretty well organized. They’re always very well coached and their goalkeeper did well… They always had good numbers behind the ball so it was difficult to break down.”
In the next match against Ramapo College, the seniors continued to be the key of the NJAC’s strongest offense.
Thorsen notched two goals for her team. Her first goal came in the 23rd minute when the Roadrunners goalie saved a shot but left the ball prime for a rebound attempt. Her second goal came in the second half, after an opponent fouled her in the box to set up a penalty kick in the 82nd minute.
With only nine seconds left before halftime, sophomore midfielder Alexa Pestritto ripped a 25-yard free kick just inside the far post. In total, the Lions outshot the Roadrunners 27-1 in route to their 11th win overall and their fifth NJAC win.
On the team’s last regular season home game against Stockton University, it was an underclassman who stepped up as the hero.
Despite clamping down the Ospreys offense, the Lions struggled to take control of the game. With the sky’s sporadically spouting showers that ranged from drizzles to light rain, the Lions couldn’t shoot the ball past the Ospreys’ net.
Sophomore midfielder Taylor Nolan says that it took both teams time to adjust to the rain, and her side had missed key opportunities in the first half.
“I think at first it took awhile to get adjusted to (the rain), but we just know just to come out no matter what the weather is, no matter what the circumstances is and just play our hardest,” Nolan said. “We still had a tough game and we were able to pull it together.”
Nolan found herself in position to pull her team into a lead after sophomore defender Jen McGrogan set up a pass from 40 yards out in the 51st minute. Nolan jumped up, headed in the pass into the net and gave her team the 1-0 lead.
Russo said in this part of the season, every game, especially NJAC games, are difficult. He liked how his team pushed through multiple obstacles and distractions for the win.
“I like our perseverance,” Russo said after the game. “Not giving up any goals is good. As you move forward and the games are getting more difficult, more difficult to score a goal and defend and win… and not scoring multiple goals.”
The Lions then started their four game road trip with a thriller in Montclair, New Jersey in the most exciting game of the season so far.
The first half of the match seemed to follow the Lions set formula as they outshot their opponents, but couldn’t capitalize on crucial chances.
In the 46th minute, Red Hawks sophomore forward Emily Beenders scored off a flick from Red Hawks freshman midfielder Imani Thompson.
It was the first time all season that the Lions had trailed in a game.
Beenders’ goal broke sophomore goalkeeper Nicole DiPasquale’s scoreless minutes streak at 1,099:54, the now-seventh longest shutout streak in NCAA Division III women’s history.
The Lions countered and kept the ball in the Red Hawks zone for the next 14 minutes. After the team was awarded a third straight corner kick, the ongoing attack paid off as Nolan headed in Goldman’s kick to level up the score, 1-1, in the 56th minute.
Three minutes later, Pestritto stepped up for a free kick 25 yards out from the middle of the field. She smashed the ball into the top right corner to give her team the lead.
Even with the Lions quick turnaround, Montclair kept pushing. The next shot the Montclair took in the 76th minute would not only be their last all match, but it tied the match and sent the game to overtime.
The first overtime period proved to be the only one necessary as the Red Hawks failed to maintain the ball or take a shot. An early corner by Goldman led to a header from freshman defender Devon McDonough which hit the post. The play was followed by another header that Bertolino saved.
The game sealing sequence saw the Red Hawks give up a foul in their own box in the 96th minute, allowing Levering to step up and crush the penalty kick goal, earning her second overtime winner of the year. Levering’s goal also moved her into a tie for second place in Lions history with 55 career goals.
Levering is now just two points shy of the Lions all-time record.
The Lions continue their road trip against No. 16 ranked Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken on Wednesday, Oct. 18. Later on Saturday, Oct. 21, the team travels to Union for a conference match against Kean University.