The Wheaton women’s soccer team left Blossom Stadium in San Antonio disappointed but grateful last Friday night, Nov. 30. Though the team dropped a tough 2-1 contest to Emory University (Ga.) in the NCAA Division III National Soccer Tournament semifinals, it took a resilient and incredible effort to even reach that point.
They lost just three times during the regular season, winning 15 of their 20 contests, then winning twice more to win the CCIW Tournament Championship. They followed that up with a stellar weekend performance to open the 2012 NCAA National Tournament, winning 4-0 over Webster University (Mo.) and 7-0 over UW-Whitewater at home to advance to the Sweet 16.
The road narrowed in St. Louis during the next round and nearly disappeared when the team came within 19 seconds of losing to the nation’s No. 2 team, Hardin-Simmons University (Texas). But a header goal from freshman midfielder Kristin Rauh tied the score before an overtime goal from freshman forward Ally Witt won the game for Wheaton.
The next day the Thunder continued their recent dominance over Washington University, winning a physical game 3-1 to earn their second consecutive trip to the Final Four in San Antonio.
There, in southern Texas, the Thunder were poised and ready to match last year’s efforts and advance to the championship game and a potential rematch with Messiah College (Pa.) for the national title. The only team standing in their way was the Emory University Eagles, hailing from Atlanta. Emory came in with a record of 14 wins, one loss and seven total ties, while boasting one of the nation’s top defenses with an average of less than 0.5 goals allowed per game.
Still, the Thunder matched up well, having scored 16 tournament goals through four games while allowing just two. On Friday night, Nov. 30, though, they were two weeks removed from their last game, and they did not find the same offensive rhythm against Emory.
Wheaton had their chances in the first half, leading the shot totals 9-5 with three shots on goal, but nothing got past Emory keeper Erica Stein. Junior forward Leah DeMoss came close to scoring on a couple of occasions, including a shot from range that just carried the crossbar in the 30th minute.
Sophomore forward Sarah Guidera came close to giving Wheaton an early lead, but her shot just missed in the 33rd minute. Emory threatened late in the half with one of their three shots on goal, but Wheaton’s senior goalkeeper Hilary Barreto collected the save. Barreto made three total saves in the opening half, after which the two semifinalists were tied at 0-0.
Things started opening up in the second half, as the Thunder went on the offensive with more urgency, but they still were unable to score. Though Emory’s chances on offense remained limited, they put forth enough of an attack to create a pair of scoring opportunities in the second half and converted them in succession to take a commanding 2-0 lead over Wheaton.
First, in the 64th minute, Emory sophomore Emily Feldman collected the ball from outside the box, turned, and shot it over the leaping Bareto and in for the contest’s first goal. Then, just three minutes later, a Wheaton foul gave Emory a free kick from 35 yards out, where junior All-American Lauren Gorodetsky launched a perfect lifted shot over another leaping attempt by Barreto for a crucial second goal to put Emory up by two. The goal was the first of the year for Gorodetsky.
The Thunder were quick to respond, scoring just 14 seconds following the goal from Gorodetsky to make it a 2-1 game with still 23 minutes remaining in regulation. The score came from a cross by sophomore defender Alexa Sharkey and was headed into the net by sophomore forward Anna Seabolt past newly-entered Emory keeper Kaele Leonard. Such a quick goal made a one-goal deficit seem conquerable, and the Thunder hoped to do just that in the game’s final portion.
Given Wheaton’s recent post-season history, tying the game and even winning seemed to be quite within reach. But Emory’s defense continued their strong play, keeping the Thunder from any close chances at the net and packing the box to not allow any deep passing.
Eventually the Thunder found themselves running out of time, and the longer the contest wore on, the tougher it became to create offensive chances. After the last few minutes came off the clock, the tough reality of coming out on the short end of the 2-1 score began to set in on the Thunder.
Emory knocked Wheaton by a goal and earned the right to play the winner of the following game between Misericordia (Pa.) and Messiah (Messiah won 3-0)) in Saturday’s championship game.
“I told our players when we finished that I was very proud of them,” Head Coach Pete Felske said in his post-game press conference. “Tonight was a microcosm of our season. Today was one of those days. We played good soccer, but I don’t think we played the way we wanted to play. It was a frustrating game for us, but we have come a long way since the beginning of the year.”
A long way, indeed. The Thunder finished the 2012 season having practiced the maximum amount of times in the year and having replaced the 2011 National Player of the Year, Jaime Orewiler, and adding 13 new players from last season, including 11 freshman. Senior midfielders Keri Shannon and Laura Karsten were both named to the NSCAA All-American First Team on Tuesday, representing just one of three schools with multiple first-team selections on the 42-player award roster.
Along with Shannon and Karsten, the Thunder will say goodbye to five other seniors from this year’s Final Four team, including goalie Hilary Barreto, defender Shelby Anthony, defender Lindsay Johnson, defender Jen Lee, and midfielder Val Lelle, whose season was cut short due to injury.
Wheaton finishes the season with a record of 21-4-2 and earned the school’s seventh national semifinalist trophy, all under the direction of Felske, who enters his 26th year next fall.
*Note: The Messiah women defeated Emory 1-0 the following day, claiming their fifth title in program history and fourth in the past five years. Messiah’s men’s team also won the national championship with a 5-1 win over Ohio Northern, giving them nine national titles in Division III, all claimed in the last 13 years.
Photo and Banner Credit: Allison Freet
Printed in the December 7, 2012, issue of The Wheaton Record. Send comments to email@example.com.