For the fourth time in as many seasons, the Springfield College women’s soccer team has advanced to play in the NCAA Division III Women’s Soccer Championship. The Pride will be traveling over six hours to Grantham, Pa., where they will try to keep their season alive.
It was not easy getting to this point. Springfield had a difficult path in this year’s NEWMAC Tournament, getting the No. 3 seed. However, after a little bit of a slow start, the Pride played well at the right time. Springfield finished the season 6-0-3 in its last nine contests.
“We have started playing close to our potential these last two weeks,” said women’s soccer head coach John Gibson, who is in his 14th season at the helm.
On November 5, the Pride hosted the WPI Engineers in the NEWMAC Quarterfinals. Less than two weeks prior, Springfield had traveled to Worcester to take on WPI, where the two teams played to a 1-1 draw. This time, however, the Pride dominated the game, out-shooting the Engineers 24-4, and capitalized for a 3-1 victory in what would be the final home game for the seniors at WPI.
The Pride advanced to take on Wheaton in Norton, Mass., a team that had beaten them early in the season. It was a rematch of last season’s conference final, in which Springfield got the better of Wheaton on penalty kicks. This time, the Pride did not need any extra time, as they did away with Wheaton 2-1, using some great team defense in the end, led by the stellar goalie play of Lucy Gillett.
After the Saturday victory of Wheaton, the Pride shipped up to Boston the next day to take on top-seeded MIT in the conference championship. MIT finished the regular season 8-1-1 in conference play, with that one loss coming at the hands of Springfield. This was the sixth consecutive NEWMAC finals appearance for the Pride, who were coming off of the dramatic championship victory last year.
This year, Springfield was able to control most of the game, but was unable to find the back of the net. After two overtimes could not settle the 0-0 tie between the two schools, the NEWMAC title, for the second year in a row, was to be decided by penalty kicks, and it was decided in similar fashion.
For the second year in a row as well, Springfield forward Nina Vital had the ball on her foot with a chance to win it, and she delivered – again.
“At that point, I had nothing to lose,” Vital said. “I tried not to overthink it and knew my team and coaches had confidence in me. Watching the ball pass the goalkeeper and end up in the back of the net was exhilarating. We are NEWMAC champions! My initial reaction was to sprint towards my teammates and celebrate.”
Yes, the Pride are NEWMAC champions, and it is the fourth time in six years they can say that. Springfield won the penalty shootout 4-3, but the clinching penalty kick was aided by a stop made by Gillett a few shots earlier.
“I generally watch the way that the shooter moves toward the ball, watching the way that her hips move,” Gillett said about the difficulties of stopping a penalty kick. “It is a hard save to make, but luckily I was able to get at least one.”
Emotions were running wild for Springfield after coming through with the thrilling win.
“We were really relieved following the victory; we have turned it on and need to carry that over for the tournament,” Gibson said.
Gillett was named the Most Outstanding Player in the tournament, logging 290 minutes of action, and only yielding two goals. She is, however, quick to credit her teammates for everything they do.
“To be named Most Outstanding Player is an absolutely amazing feeling,” Gillett said. “It is so great to be recognized, but I wish it could go to some of my other hard-working teammates as well. They all did a great job and I couldn’t ask for a better team to be on that field with.”
The Pride move on to play a similar opponent in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Earlier this season, it was the Lord Jeffs of Amherst who got the better of Springfield, 4-0. The Pride will try to change the outcome in their favor this Saturday when they battle with Amherst.
“We have developed as a team throughout the entire season, strengthened our weaknesses and capitalized on our strengths,” Vital said. “Going into the Amherst game, I have full confidence and faith in my team to perform.”
The winner will go on to play the winner of the game between LaSalle and Messiah.
“We were really surprised to see where we were going,” said Gibson, who explained that it is very rare to play a team in the first round that you have already seen in the regular season.
In fact, of the 32 first round games, the match-up featuring the Pride and Lord Jeffs is the only rematch of a regular season game.
Springfield may have gotten a tough draw in the first round, but when you get to this point in the season, there are no easy games.
“Every game is tough and you have to fight all the way through,” Gibson said.
Vital spoke about just how special this year’s NEWMAC Tournament run was.
“I have been in and out of the season this year with injuries and I’m grateful I had the chance to play in the tournament, this year especially,” Vital said. “Despite being the same tournament, it is different. As I’m sure any senior feels, leaving your college career a champion is an amazing feeling, and I can’t be happier to experience it with the amazing group of girls I have been blessed enoughto play with.”
Seniors Vicky DiNatale, Ashley Carresi and Lauren Muser earned NEWMAC Women’s Soccer All-Conference honors. The Pride have also moved up and are ranked T-25th in the NSCAA national rankings.
That said, all focus will be towards preparing for the battle with Amherst in the NCAA Tournament. The game will be played November 16, beginning at 1:30 p.m. Roll Pride.