The sport of soccer is built around finesse, athleticism, and the ability to stay on the pitch for 90 minutes at a running pace. Sometimes, these 90 minutes are not enough to decide a match, and the two teams will be thrown into extra time, and sometimes, the ever-exciting penalty kicks.
It was penalty kicks against Wheaton College way back in 2005, that Women’s Soccer Head Coach John Gibson looks back at as the most memorable game in his 14-year tenure at Springfield College.
The Pride went 14-5-3 that season, and competed for a shot at the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) title. Earning the title would be no cakewalk for Springfield, however, as they were set to face off against the powerful Wheaton Lyons, who posted a 18-5-2 record overall, and an 8-0-1 record in the NEWMAC conference.
“Wheaton had dominated the conference to that point,” Gibbons said. “They went at one point 90 conference games without losing one.”
The Lyons were coming off of back-to-back shutout wins in the NEWMAC tournament, a 5-0 win against Worcester Polytechnic Institute followed by a 4-0 victory against Smith College. Wheaton had accumulated its fair share of momentum heading into the tournament championship game against Springfield.
In the days leading up to their championship clash with the Lyons, Coach Gibbons began constructing a five-player lineup of who would be taking penalty kicks if the opportunity were to occur.
“We had worked out who the top-five were,” Gibson explained, “and on the bus I went around to the players in the top-five and said, ‘If it comes to penalties at any point in the semi-finals or finals, do you want one?’ Two of them, I knew were not going to play, they just weren’t in the lineup. And they said they’d take the kicks.”
Coach Gibson even said that one of the team captains had come to him beforehand and said that she had a dream that the Pride would win it all on penalty kicks. Gibson, keeping his mind on the upcoming game and not on a potential fantasy, thought nothing of it.
The Pride rolled past Clark University to take the semi-finals 2-0, and the big bad Lyons were up next in the finals.
And so the game rolled along, with Springfield taking an early 1-0 lead in the first half off of a Christine Turbitt goal. As the 56th minute rolled along, Wheaton’s Lauren Konopka buried an equalizer, and the score would stand for the remaining 34 minutes.
Sure enough, the game went into extra time. The Lyons came close to gaining a 2-1 advantage – they hit the post, actually – but the extra period ended, and it appeared that the NEWMAC title would be decided by penalty kicks.
“As the clock was counting down in the second overtime,” Gibson recalled, “these two girls, who hadn’t kicked a ball in the semi-finals the day before or the finals, were taking their stuff off, getting ready, warming up.”
Maybe that captain’s dream was about to become a reality.
Springfield goalkeeper Amanda Petri saved Wheaton’s first shot. It then became a shooting frenzy for the Pride, as their next four shooters, Delaney Cantrall, Margaret Mertzic, Meghan Butler, and Cari Capodiece, all scored. Even the two girls who didn’t play a minute of action in the semi-finals or finals (Capodiece and Butler) scored on their opportunities.
Wheaton’s kick to keep Springfield alive hit the crossbar and bounced off. The Pride had knocked off the dominant Wheaton Lyons in the NEWMAC championship, as the women won their first conference title.
“That was the first time that we’d won the conference. It was at Wheaton Grounds, so that made it all the better,” Gibson said. “A major part was made by these people who knew they weren’t going to play, but they were ready to take the penalties.”
What started as a dream for one captain ended in a reality and a long-lasting memory for Coach John Gibson.
Shawn McFarland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org