For the second consecutive season, the Wheaton Thunder women’s soccer team is headed to San Antonio to compete for the NCAA Division III Women’s Soccer National Championship. The team left on Wednesday, Nov. 28, for the Final Four, which begins this afternoon, Nov. 30, when Wheaton takes on Emory University (Ga.) in the National Semifinal round (5 p.m. CT; WETN 88.1 FM).
Last year Head Coach Pete Felske led his team into the Final Four where they faced Ithaca College (NY) and won 2-0, earning a spot in the National Championship game. The Thunder ultimately finished as runners-up to Messiah College (Pa.), which also returns to San Antonio this year to defend its title.
Similar to last year, the Thunder needed a dramatic, come-from-behind playoff victory in order to keep the season alive. In 2011 it was a 4-2 home victory over Washington University (Mo.) in the Elite Eight, in which the Thunder erased a 2-0 deficit with four goals in the final 20 minutes to advance to Texas. This time the drama took place on Washington’s campus in the Round of Sixteen, and their opponent was the nation’s No. 2-ranked team of Hardin-Simmons University (Texas).
Going into the game with Hardin-Simmons, Felske knew his team would be in for a tough matchup. The Cowgirls were National Champions in 2010 and had not lost a single game in 2012, boasting an 18-0-2 overall record. Even before the contest, Felske seemed to have an idea that this match would be a special one.
“We’re going into the match to win, and we’re going to take the field confidently,” he said before the team left for St. Louis. “However, the experience 20 years from now will be what the players remember, and this will be a great game to be a part of and look back on someday.”
“Someday” may have come a bit sooner than expected considering what unfolded next. The game was a physical, back-and-forth battle, with each side seeing only limited opportunities at the net in the first half despite the Thunder’s 12-9 advantage in total shots. But as the second half wore on, Hardin-Simmons built momentum in their favor and capitalized with the game’s first goal in the 65th minute.
That lead held up into the waning moments of the contest, but with their backs against the wall and their season hanging in the balance, the Thunder rallied as freshman Kristin Rauh headed a loose ball in the box past the keeper and into the back of the net to equalize the score at 1-1 with just 19 seconds remaining in the game. The score was Rauh’s second of the season and of her collegiate career.
On the heels of the momentum-shifting play, the Thunder put an exclamation point on one of the year’s greatest games thanks to a goal by freshman Ally Witt in the first minute of the opening overtime period, giving Wheaton the 2-1 win and the right to advance to the Elite Eight.
Their next opponent was a familiar one, as Wheaton took on the host Washington University Bears with a spot in the Final Four on the line.
The Thunder matched the Bears’ early aggression and took the opening lead thanks to an eighth-minute goal by sophomore forward Sarah Guidera. Wheaton increased the lead to 2-0 when sophomore midfiedler Annie Hamilton pushed a shot past the keeper and into the net in the 42nd minute just prior to halftime.
Washington wrested away some of the momentum from the Thunder in the second half. After a missed penalty kick by DeMoss, the home team scored a goal to make it a 2-1 game with 24 minutes remaining.
After the momentum shifted toward Washington University, Wheaton made sure that it did not continue, as freshman forward Sydney Sharkey sent in a cross that avoided traffic and sailed over the keeper and into the net to make it a 3-1 Thunder lead in the 79th minute. The goal all but sealed the victory for the Thunder, who handed Washington University their second loss all year, both of which have been at the hands of the Thunder.
With the victories of two weekends ago the Thunder have earned a spot in the NCAA Division III Women’s Soccer Final Four for the second consecutive year. Joining them in San Antonio is Emory University from Atlanta, out of the University Athletic Association (UAA).
Emory has a record of 14-1-7 on the year and defeated the likes of DePauw 2-0, Centre 2-0, Loras 2-1 and conference rival Carnegie Mellon in penalty kicks en route to reaching the Final Four. On the other side of the bracket, perennial powerhouse Messiah College (Pa.) takes on Misericordia University (Pa.) on Friday night, Nov. 30, for a chance to make it to Saturday’s NCAA Championship game.
The Wheaton-Emory contest will be broadcast live this afternoon, Nov.30, on WETN 88.1 FM and streaming live on wetn.org. Pregame coverage begins at 3:30 p.m. leading up to a 5 p.m. kickoff. Should the Thunder win, they will play in the championship game on Saturday against the winner of the Messiah-Misericordia match, and the first kick will be at 5:30 p.m. and that match will also be broadcast live on WETN 88.1 FM and wetn.org.
Photo and Banner Credit: Allison Freet
Printed in the November 30, 2012, issue of The Wheaton Record. Send comments to email@example.com.