After 23 total games this fall and 110 minutes of play Saturday, the 6th-ranked women’s soccer team saw its historic season finally come to a close in a heartbreaking fashion.
The Bombers tied 10th-ranked Misericordia University 0-0 after 90 minutes of regulation and two 10-minute overtime periods. But the Cougars punched their ticket to the Elite Eight round of the NCAA Tournament with a narrow 6-5 edge in the decisive penalty kick shootout.
Each team had plenty of chances to break the scoreless tie throughout the regulation time, but ample scoring chances were turned away time after time by impressive saves from Ithaca senior goalkeeper Becca Salant and Misericordia freshman goalkeeper Maureen Ciccosanti.
Misericordia looked to have a sure goal when the Cougars’ junior midfielder Alyssa Mocion collected a rebound from a header by senior teammate Sam Helmstetter at point blank range. However, Mocion’s opportunity was stopped at the last moment by Salant, who stretched out to stop Mocion’s booming shot with her head to clear the ball and preserve the scoreless tie in the 68th minute.
Bombers Head Coach Mindy Quigg said her squad executed its defensive strategy well and acted upon the lessons it learned from the team’s 1-0 victory against the Cougars on Oct. 2.
“We knew where their dangers were, and we kept them at bay offensively,” Quigg said. “Becca [Salant] had a great game in goal, and those couple of times when we slipped up she had our backs and did a great job.”
The Blue and Gold’s best chance came when freshman midfielder Kelsey King charged into the box and drew a penalty on Misericordia. Senior midfielder Julie Winn, the Bombers’ best penalty shooter throughout the season, took the shot for the Bombers but missed just wide left of the goal with about 15 minutes remaining in the second half.
The natural grass surface on Carp Wood Field was visibly torn apart after a lengthy season of Empire 8 Conference games and the opening round of the NCAA Tournament Nov. 10-11. Winn said the field made it tough for players to get proper footing for their cuts and their shots, but she refused to use the conditions as an excuse for the Bombers’ loss.
“It wasn’t ideal, but it was the same for both teams, everyone had to adjust to it,” Winn said. “I think after the middle of the first half everybody realized what was happening, you’ve got to adjust to it with smaller steps so you don’t slip.”
Misericordia outshot the Bombers 6-4 in the two overtime periods, however both teams failed to score, and the South Hill squad entered penalty kicks just 13 days after it earned the Empire 8 Conference automatic bid to the national tournament with a shootout win against Nazareth College.
Winn opened the shootout by atoning for her missed penalty in regulation and tallied the game’s first score with a shot to the bottom right corner of the net. The teams traded goals until Misericordia sophomore midfielder Erin Roberts missed and the Bombers’ junior midfielder Amanda Callanan converted on the ensuing turn to give the Blue and Gold a commanding 4-2 lead.
Misericordia freshman midfielder Lindsay Usarzewicz righted the ship for the Cougars by converting her shot to close the gap to 4-3. Then, senior back Megan Palladino opened the door back up for the Cougars when she missed her penalty shot. Helmstetter took advantage of the opportunity and tied the shootout back up at 4-4.
Misericordia Head Coach Mark Stauffer said he was never worried about his team’s chances, even after the Cougars went down two goals in the penalty shootout.
“That just reflects this team’s attitude the whole season,” Stauffer said. “They just don’t give up.”
The shootout extended into extra rounds, and each team converted its sixth penalty kick to keep the score tied at 5 apiece. However, junior back Meredith Jones missed the mark on the Bombers’ seventh kick and Misericordia sophomore back Danielle Hesler followed up with the winning kick past the arms of Ithaca junior goalkeeper Becca Lewis to send the Cougars on to the East Regional finals.
The loss was especially tough for the Blue and Gold’s seniors, who were looking to reach the tournament’s semifinal round for the second consecutive season. While Quigg said she believes her team will be competitive once again in 2013, she also said Saturday’s loss will sting for a while.
“Everybody will bounce back, and Ithaca will be a competitive program again next year, but we’re going to lick our wounds a little bit for sure,” Quigg said.