The women’s soccer team won their first and second round NCAA Division III tournament games at the Woodruff P.E. Center (WoodPEC) over the weekend. They will advance to the third round Friday to play Wheaton College (Ill.) in San Antonio, Texas.
Emory began the action by blowing out Piedmont College 6-1 on Saturday afternoon.
Junior forward Emily Feldman scored three goals that game, recording the first post-season hat trick in the program’s history.
Because if a team advances, it will play two games in one weekend, depth is more important in the NCAA tournament than during the regular season.
All 24 players eligible to play appeared in this game, showing the strength of Emory’s bench. Head Coach Sue Patberg was impressed by her entire team.
“You want to keep players as fresh as you can,” Patberg said. “We have a lot of depth and we will definitely use it.”
Sunday’s game against Lynchburg College (Va.) was not nearly as lopsided. There is a long-standing rivalry between the two teams and tensions ran high pregame. The game’s physicality more closely resembled a round three or four game, senior captain Kelly Costopoulos said.
“It was heart-stopping,” Patberg said. “It was so tense. It was everything an NCAA game should be.”
Lynchburg and Emory were both highly-ranked nationally, 11th and eighth respectively.
Lynchburg had two forwards, Angela Bosco and Dessi Dupuy, who were especially lethal together, Patberg said. One was extremely skillful and the other stayed behind, senior defender Lauren Gorodetsky said.
As cold rain muddied the field in the fifth minute of play, Lynchburg midfielder Jessie Gonzalez received a pass from a free kick and shot low and hard into the goal.
Emory goalkeeper Liz Arnold made contact with the ball but was unable to keep it out as it skimmed the wet ground in front of the goal.
“It might not have gone in under other conditions, but you’re supposed to take advantage of stuff like that,” Patberg said.
Lynchburg was ultimately unable to take advantage, as it was their only goal on the night. Still, Patberg was not thrilled with her team’s performance.
“We should have come out with more energy,” Patberg said.
In the 30th minute of play, Costopoulos took the ball far down the field and passed to junior forward Charlotte Butker, who made a short pass to junior Jennifer Grant. Grant made a perfect kick from 25 yards out, far out of the reach of the Lynchburg goalkeeper.
The Eagles carried the momentum into the waning moments of the half.
In the 42nd minute of play, sophomore forward Cristina Ramirez was pulled down by a Lynchburg defender, and Emory was granted a penalty kick. Senior midfielder Clare Mullins kicked far out of the Lynchburg goaltender’s reach to make the score 2-1 in Emory’s favor.
The Emory defense went on to shut Lynchburg down for the remaining 38 minutes of play. Costopolous was pleased with the effort from her unit.
“Our defense played phenomenally,” she said. “They went all out and kept the ball out of our half.”
Gorodetsky agreed with her co-captain.
“We were marking them tight all game, and they weren’t as dangerous as they were in other games,” she said.
Arnold continued her strong season, notching four saves and improving her record to 15-2-1 on the season.
As the tournament progresses, the competition will keep getting better and better. The Eagles’ game on Saturday was an encouraging start to the tournament run.
“The all-out brawl against Lynchburg is really what the road to a national championship is like,” Mullins said.
Costopoulos agreed, citing the increasing level of talent.
“It reminded us that this isn’t going to get any easier,” she said.
Patberg stressed that to ensure success, the team will have to play with urgency and consistency from the first whistle.
Mullins, meanwhile, cited the team’s “one-game season mentality,” focusing on one game at a time, because every game of the tournament could be the last.
“Wheaton is a fantastic team, and it’s going to take everything we have to beat them, but I know we can do it,” Mullins said.
For some players, the comeback victory against Lynchburg was a reaffirmation of their grit and team chemistry.
“It’s a real test of character when you’re down and the conditions aren’t in your favor,” Gorodetsky said.
Mullins echoed her sentiments, praising the team’s heart.
“Our team really shows our true colors when the pressure is on,” Mullins said. “It was a rough start, but that happens, and it could happen again. You have to look at how a team reacts, and we couldn’t have reacted better.”
– By Zak Hudak
Photo courtesy of Emory Athletics