Women’s soccer: Underdog Bears fall short of NCAA title upset
The rankings would have put No. 1 Messiah College five goals ahead of No. 17 Washington University, the same score the Falcons won with last year. But the underdog gave the No. 1 team a true batttle, allowing only one Messiah goal in 90 minutes and nearly sending the game into overtime.
“The score was only one-nothing. Last year, [the championship game] was five nothing,” junior Laura McGinnis said. “We did stay in it till the last minute. We didn’t stop fighting.”
The Falcons, who are on a 56-game unbeaten streak, held the Bears to six shots in San Antonio on Saturday, with only one on goal, one of their lowest amounts this season, en route to the Falcons’ second straight NCAA Division III national title.
Offensive opportunities were few and far between, except for the last few minutes of the game as the Red and Green were determined to leave all their efforts on the field. In the 89th minute, senior Emily Bylsma took the last shot the team had in the game.
“The last few minutes were pretty exciting…We were pressing until the very end,” Bylsma said. “Elyse [Hanly] had a really good cross, and the keeper managed to get a hand on it, and I was off by a few inches or a foot from getting a better shot off.”
The Bears had the daunting task of recovering after Friday’s draining game against Lynchburg College, which they won in sudden-death penalty kicks. Coming back on the field less than 24 hours later to try to defeat the team that had won the championship last year in a decisive 5-0 rout was a challenge the Bears came very close to overcoming.
In addition to stifling the Bears’ normally effective attack, the Falcons took 16 shots and were awarded two corner kicks to the Red and Green’s zero. Wash. U.’s lack of opportunities, namely corner kicks, sealed the Bears’ fate.
Messiah found the back of the net in the 23rd minute of the first half when Amanda Naeher received a cross and shot just outside the box into the near corner of the goal, just inches past the diving freshman goalie Clara Jaques, who had six saves throughout the game.
The Falcons kept the Bears’ momentum in check as they opened the game with three forwards, something head coach Jim Conlon had not expected.
“They had us on our heels in the first half with three forwards, and we were able to adjust,” Conlon said. “They did get the goal in the first half, but we just could not get the equalizer.”
Even when the time was short, Wash. U.’s effort was relentless. The Bears’ passion was matched closely by the 23 students on the fan bus, namely the “Conlon Crazies,” a group of men’s soccer players and other fans. According to Bylsma, one of the referees commented on how impressed she was with the dedicated Wash. U. fans.
Senior captain Libby Held and sophomores Emma Brown and Lee Ann Felder were named to the NCAA championship all-tournament team.
The team’s group of eight graduating seniors led the team to its best NCAA appearance in history, making it to the Final Four for the second time ever and the first championship game appearance.
The group also led the team to four consecutive UAA championships.
“These eight seniors have been through a lot together—been through coaching switches, people playing, not playing, people quitting…It’s all about the heart and the common goal all of us shared from the beginning,” senior captain Carter Schwarberg said. “I love my team; I’m so proud of them, and I know they’ll be here next year.”
While the departing eight will be sorely missed in next year’s roster, their influence will remain.
“I’m just excited that our team made it this far,” Brown said. “Our seniors especially pulled our team together. I’ve never been on a team that played for each other as hard as we played for each other all season.”
With additional reporting from San Antonio by Johann Qua Hiansen