By Nick Granados
ESU’s nationally ranked women’s soccer team finished off their historic regular season with a pair of afternoon games on October 31 and November 1.
The No. 3 ranked Warriors faced off against Slippery Rock in a Halloween matinee at Eiler-Martin Stadium.
Slippery Rock appeared to take a 1-0 lead in the 54th minute, however the shot was cleared off of the line before it crossed the net.
ESU appeared to take a 1-0 lead later in the half. However, the goal was disallowed as the Warriors were offside.
The game remained scoreless until 4:50 into the second overtime when Shea Neal’s header floated past goalkeeper Shannon Mahoney to give the Warriors the 1-0 win and their 16th consecutive victory.
The Warriors were back at Eiler-Martin Stadium the next day to take on California (Pa.) in their regular season finale.
Before the game, ESU recognized its five seniors: forward Lauren Buchanan-Dwyer, back Kelly Clark, forward/midfielder Courtney Keller, back Lexie Peveraro, and forward/midfielder Erika Wilt.
After a scoreless first half, ESU’s Brielyn Hackett found the back of the net in the 71st minute to give the Warriors a 1-0 lead.
Despite a flurry of offense from California, ESU held off the Vulcans’ attack for their 17th consecutive win of the season, as well as the first ever PSAC regular season championship in school history.
After the game, Warriors head coach Rob Berkowitz admitted that, while he knew this team was going to do well, he never envisioned a season like this.
“We played well in the first game, and then we knew there was something good in the group and that we could have a very good year,” he said. “I wouldn’t have expected 17 [wins] in a row. I’d be lying to you if I said I thought we could go on that kind of a run.”
Berkowitz reiterated that, despite losing their season opener, there were a lot of positives taken from the match. “Just the way we played that night,” he said. “I knew we had a chance to do something good this year.”
Junior forward Sammi Jo Hughes, who has 5 goals and 3 assists this season, acknowledged the difficulty of having such a successful season in a conference full of great teams.
“This season has been one long battle from day one, and now that we’ve been so successful we know every team is going to give us their best game,” she said.
She continued, “Today’s game was no different. Cal has always been the best team in the conference and we knew this game would be the biggest test of the season.”
Hughes also commended her teammates and acknowledged the effort from the entire team, as well as how the team was able to earn yet another win.
“Fighting for every ball and controlling the field was the key to winning today. All 11 of us put it all on the line and gave it everything we had this game for the win,” she said.
ESU entered Saturday’s game 24 hours after a hard fought overtime victory over Slippery Rock, something that Hughes admitted did not make the game any easier.
“Coming off a tough overtime win less than 24 hours before was mentally and physically taxing but we overcame that and played hard.” Hughes said.
Head coach Rob Berkowitz spoke very highly of ESU’s goalkeepers and their play this season. Among the seniors lost last season was goalkeeper Brittain Wagner, who had been a mainstay in goal at ESU for three seasons.
Replacing Wagner this season were sophomore Brooke Powers, freshman Jess Hetrick, and freshman Jules Harris.
Hetrick started in three games for the Warriors this season, while Jules Harris has been the starter for the other fifteen.
“Jules and Jess, both freshmen, have done a good job,” Berkowitz said. “Jules has mainly been our starter, but we’re confident in Jess. We’ve put [Hetrick] in some big games as well.””
Berkowitz also praised the play of Jules Harris. “For a freshman to come in and do what she has so far has been tremendous.” he said.
Harris acknowledged her teammates and their help in making her freshman season a good one.
“The team is like my second family.” She said. “They’ve all made my freshman season incredible. I couldn’t imagine sharing this opportunity with any other group of girls.
Junior Shea Neal was the talent that the team had this season.
“It was definitely something we all hoped for, and certainly knew we had the talent for. It was just a matter of if we all were going to use the talent to the best of our abilities,” Neal said. “The chemistry and overall family aspect of the team has peaked this year.”
As the Warriors prepare for the PSAC Tournament, they are also taking the time to enjoy their regular season title “We’ll enjoy it today. We’ll get back to training tomorrow.” Berkowitz said after the game.
Although the postseason is just beginning, Berkowitz was extremely proud of his team’s regular season accomplishment.
“With a 16-game schedule, to win [the PSAC regular season title], for me, is just as important as a conference championship,” he said. “It showed we were the best team over the longest stretch.”
As the post season begins, the Warriors have no intention of ending their season early, something that Sammi Jo Hughes acknowledged after yesterday’s win.
“Going forward we know it’s not going to be any easier, and every game might be our last,” she said. “So we will work just as hard to make this season last!”
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