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NCAA bid despite heartbreaking NJAC loss

The Lions get set for their 24th straight NCAA Tournament. (Photo courtesy of the Sports Information Desk)
The Lions get set for their 24th straight NCAA Tournament. (Photo courtesy of the Sports Information Desk)

The playoff semifinals were a testament that the women’s soccer team was ready for a challenge, one over which they triumphed as they pushed past a talented Richard Stockton College team 2-0 on Wednesday, Nov. 5.

The third-seeded Ospreys were coming off a 3-1 win against sixth-seeded Rutgers-Newark on Saturday, Nov. 1 in the first round of the playoffs. This was the Lions’ first playoff game of the year with first seeded Montclair, as their second seed earned them a bye in the first round.

Senior Gina Caprara doesn’t think the extra time off had any negative effects on the team, saying that the team just wanted to play.

“We were more excited that we had a bye because it gave us more time to practice and get ready for two of the biggest games yet,” Caprara said. “We all had the confidence that we were going to make it to the finals, and during that extra practice time, we brought up the energy which allowed us to win.”

In a game like this, neither team expects it to be easy. Both the Lions and the Ospreys pushed against each other’s advances. Whenever one tried to push into the others zone, the defense kicked it back to the middle. This went on for almost the entire first half, with each team having bursts of strong offensive attack.

However, the Lions were able to strike first right before the end of the half. Caprara found a way to net a goal from the center of the box off a perfect cross from sophomore Lauren Malajian at 42:07.

Caprara says it was all about timing.

“I honestly was in the right spot at the right time,” Caprara said. “Lauren crossed it in, one of the Stockton players missed it, and I knew I had to finish it. No one was marking me either, so I was able to get away from everyone crowded in front of the net.”

After the half, the Ospreys broke through the Lions’ defense almost immediately, pursuing a legitimate scoring chance that was stopped by goalie Kendra Griffith. However, after Stockton had a burst of offense, the College did as well.

This led to a corner pass from sophomore Brianna Petro, who outran the Osprey’s defender. The pass was able to slip past the Ospreys’ goalie and allowed sophomore Christine Levering to kick it in to put the Lions up by two at 52:37.

The game continued back and forth, with Stockton taking three total shots in the second half — a game total of six — and the Lions able to get eight total shots — a game total of 11.

In the end, the Lions were able to come away with the win. Now, the team will look forward to Saturday, Nov. 8 and the game against Montclair in the final.

With the Hawks being one of only two teams to beat the Lions in the regular season, Caprara still believed it to be like any other game.

“We knew who the better team was when we played them, and we are just as good as them if not better,” Caprara said in preparation for the game. “I think it will be a great game, but if we come out with the energy and fight that we have recently been bringing, then we should win the NJAC easily.”

With that, the team prepped for the game up in Montclair on Saturday, Nov. 8, and hoped it could undo the mistakes it had made against the team during its regular season meeting.

This is a game that the Lions had chance after chance with which to take a commanding lead, but the team could never finish off a resilient Hawks opponent. This led to a 1-1 tie at the end of regulation play, a 0-0 score at the end of double overtime and a shootout that left the Lions with a disappointing loss.

Freshman Elizabeth Thoresen was able to blast in a goal from the outside off a pass from senior Korrie Harkins in the first at 19:48. However, this would be the only goal for the Lions.

Later in the first, Montclair was able to strike back after freshman Daniella Greco was able to recover a rebound off the crossbar and kick in a goal, tying the game at 1-1 at 30:54.

From there, the game bounced back and forth, with each team gaining multiple opportunities but never finishing. The Lions led the Hawks in shot attempts with a game total of 23. Montclair went multiple lengths of time with zero shots and ended up with 11, thanks to a stellar defense from the College.

However, after two periods of overtime, both teams headed toward a deciding shootout.

Junior Taylor Lusardi stepped up for the College first but missed her shot against goalie Gina Policastro. Montclair senior Francesca Gibson was able to make her shot, putting the Hawks up 1-0.

Up next was senior Lori Genovesi, who was able to make her shot, and with Hawks sophomore Erin Sullivan missing her attempt, the two teams were back to being tied.

After both teams made their next shots, Thoresen tried to put the Lions ahead but missed her shot, allowing junior Martina Landeka to sink hers, and put the Hawks ahead. Caprara was unable to make her attempt, ending the Lions season and denying them the NJAC title.

However, the Lions still received an at-large bid for the NCAA Division III Tournament and will take on Allegheny College in the opening round.

“We have had a strong regular season and hope that will carry us very deep into the tournament,” Griffith said.

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