For the women’s soccer team, it was only fitting the sun finally broke through the heavy clouds at the conclusion of the Empire 8 tournament Nov. 9.
After a one-goal loss ended regular season play for the Bombers, the team responded by winning its second consecutive Empire 8 championship game against Nazareth College.
In its loss to St. John Fisher College on Oct. 30, the senior-laden Blue and Gold looked uncharacteristically scattered. The team’s offense scored just once in the game, while its defense gave up multiple goals for the first time this year.
Just 10 days after that loss, the Bombers faced off against the Cardinals again in the Empire 8 semifinal match on Carp Wood Field. Sophomore forward Kelsey King gave the offense an early boost by scoring in the third minute of the game, and the team never looked back, routing the Cardinals 6–2.
Freshman defender Aimee Chimera, who earned Empire 8 tournament MVP honors, said the difference between the two games against St. John Fisher was the team’s mentality.
“Coming into this tournament, we knew that we had the ability to win, and we just wanted to go hard and not hold back,” she said. “We wanted to make sure there weren’t any letdowns.”
The Bombers, who now have a 16–2–0 overall record, looked much more composed in the rematch. According to head coach Mindy Quigg, the team was much more settled and controlled the game better. Even more impressive, it carried its momentum into the tournament final against Nazareth.
In their regular season match against the Golden Flyers, the Bombers snuck out with a 1–0 victory, netting a late goal to secure the win. In the final, however, the Blue and Gold continued their tournament trend of scoring early when senior forward Jackie Rodabaugh scored off a cross from freshman midfielder Holly Niemiec in the seventh minute of the game.
Nazareth senior Olivia Derleth tied the game halfway through the first half, but senior forward Ellyn Grant-Keane scored early in the second half to give the Bombers the lead. Niemiec put an exclamation point on the win with her second goal of the season in the 80th minute.
Quigg credited the team’s midfield, which consisted of Grant-Keane, senior Amanda Callanan, freshman Taylor Baranowsky and junior Jessie Warren, with much of the team’s success in the championship game.
“Those four together really settled us down, controlled the game and picked apart Nazareth’s defense,” Quigg said. “We had a great game today in our midfield and also played very well defensively.”
Grant-Keane, Callanan and senior defender Anna Gray were named to the All-Tournament team along with Chimera. Grant-Keane also broke the school’s all-time assist record during the weekend with her 30th career assist in the win against the Cardinals.
Callanan said winning the tournament was especially meaningful for the 10 seniors on the team because it allowed them to finish their Empire 8 careers as the best team in the conference.
“That was one of our first goals as a team this season, and especially as a senior, going out on our home turf on top feels amazing,” she said.
The Empire 8 tournament, however, will not be the last time Callanan and the rest of the seniors play on Carp Wood Field. The bracket for the NCAA tournament was released Nov. 11, and the South Hill squad was selected to host the first and second rounds of the national tournament.
The Bombers will host Penn State–Behrend in the first round of the tournament on Carp Wood Field. The Lions are coming off a 15–5–1 season and have faced Empire 8 schools Houghton College and Utica College. They defeated Utica 2–0 and lost to Houghton 4–0. Meanwhile, the Blue and Gold are undefeated against the two common opponents, having beat Utica 5–0 and Houghton 1–0.
The team is going to prepare for the national playoffs in the same way it readied itself for the Empire 8 tournament: by focusing on coming together as a team, Chimera said.
“Coach has been running practices really well to prepare us for the teams that we’ve seen before, and we have been learning from our mistakes,” she said.