By Nick Granados
A week after winning the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference regular season title, ESU Women’s Soccer won their third PSAC Tournament Championship and extended their unbeaten streak to 20 games.
In the PSAC Semi-Finals, the Warriors faced California (Pa.), who ESU defeated 1-0 in their final regular season game. After forward Sammi Jo Hughes put ESU ahead 1-0 in the 5th minute, Janelle McCann scored in the 7th and 10th minute to give the Vulcans a 2-1 lead.
Courtney Keller tied the game at 2 in the 80th minute off a long pass from Amanda Vojta. A minute later, California’s Janelle McCann picked up her second yellow card of the game after slide tackling ESU goalkeeper Jules Harris.
With just over five minutes left in the game, California’s Megan Politowski attempted to head the ball back to goalkeeper Meghan Jayes when the ball sailed over Jayes’ head and into the goal to give ESU a 3-2 lead, and ultimately the win.
The Warriors met Kutztown, who defeated West Chester 4-2 in the semi-finals, in the PSAC Championship game. The Golden Bears handed ESU their first and only defeat of the regular season in the season opener on September 4, with a 1-0 score on a late goal in the second half.
This time, the game remained scoreless until the 78th minute when midfielder Shea Neal picked up the rebound off a deflection and deposited it past Kutztown’s Deanna Messner to put the Warriors ahead.
As the final seconds ticked off the clock, a swarm of ESU students stormed the field as the Warriors celebrated their third PSAC Championship in school history. In an ironic twist of events, the Warriors avenged their season opening loss to Kutztown by defeating them in similar fashion.
Midfielder Shea Neal, who was named MVP of the tournament, scored her seventh goal of the season on Saturday night. The sophomore was also named to the PSAC All-First Team, along with senior back Lexi Peveraro, and was named PSAC Women’s Soccer Athlete of the Week for the week of November 3.
“Scoring the winning goal in our PSAC final game was like a dream come true,” Neal said after the game. “All of the weight had been lifted off my shoulders, and at that point I said, ‘Okay, twelve minutes, we can do this.’”
Freshman goalkeeper Jess Hetrick started Saturday’s championship game in place of regular starter Jules Harris, who suffered an ankle injury late in ESU’s 3-2 win over California. Hetrick made four saves, including a spectacular save in the 39th minute when she deflected a shot over the crossbar to keep the Golden Bears off the board.
“Jess came in and did an unbelievable job for us,” said Warriors head coach, and PSAC Coach of the Year, Rob Berkowitz. “To do what she did was unbelievable.”
Berkowitz acknowledged the excitement and impact of playing on their home field in front of their home crowd.
“The crowd was unbelievable,” he said. “The support just lifted us at the end.” Saturday’s win is just another chapter in what has been a fairy tale season thus far.
“The success of my team has been tremendous. I never would have thought we would get this far with 20 straight wins,” said Neal. “This team has a lot of heart and we would fight ‘til the end to get this result. Fortunately, it showed last night. We just told each other to play like it was our last game.”
With the win, Berkowitz, who was the recipient of a Gatorade bath after the game, and the rest of the Warriors clinched an automatic berth in the NCAA Division II Tournament. As the Tournament approaches, the game plan remains the same.
“The mindset going into the NCAA tournament is the same that it has been for any game. Play our best, do what we have been doing, and don’t let up,” said Neal.
Neal continued, “We’re strong, and each girl on our team has the ability to compete at this level. Most of all, we’re a family. It’s important that everything we do, we do for each other. We look forward to competing in the tournament.”
ESU enters the NCAA DII Tournament as the No.1 seed of the Atlantic Region and will host all Atlantic Regional games of the tournament. The Warriors have a first round bye and will take on the winner of Friday’s game between Notre Dame (Ohio) and West Virginia Wesleyan on Sunday afternoon at 1:00 PM.
Three hundred free tickets to the game on Sunday have been made available to students at the Student University Center. Get yours before they run out.
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