Although the Sagehens had the Lutes reading Exodus on Saturday, they found themselves on the cross against the Regals on the Lord’s day.
Pomona-Pitzer (P-P) women’s soccer plucked the Pacific Lutheran (PLU) Lutes straight out of the NCAA Division III tournament on Saturday Nov. 11, taking a 1-0 first-round overtime victory. However, their euphoria would not last long as they bent the knee to the Cal Lutheran Regals in the second round Sunday, losing 0-1.
Eliminated in the first round of the tournament in a heartbreaking penalty shootout the previous year, the Sagehens came into this fall with a chip on their shoulder. Opening the season on a 9-0 tear, P-P reached as high as seventh in the National rankings. Despite three ties to SCIAC opponents, the Sagehens ended their regular season undefeated with a 16-0-3 record, defeating Cal Lu 1-0 on Nov. 4, eight days before the Regals flipped the narrative.
To redeem themselves from last year’s early exit, the Sagehens would need to take down the 15-5-1 Northwest Conference champions PLU. However, regardless of P-P’s national notoriety, the Lutes were the first on the attack.
Earning a corner just four minutes into the game, the cross deflected high off of a Lute player and was swatted away by Hens keeper, Patricia DePalma PO ’27. DePalma has been a star for P-P this season, conceding the least amount of goals in the SCIAC and leading the conference in games played by goalies.
DePalma displayed an aggressive playstyle Saturday, sprinting out of the box to force a PLU throw-in and subsequently stopping a point blank shot from just in front of the net. A yellow card given to Melanie Ng PO ’25 in the 11th minute set up a great chance for the Lutes just outside the box, but the shot sailed high over the net.
This would be the last shot taken by PLU for the remainder of the half as P-P took control on offense. Forward Hannah Hong PO ’26 spoke on the adjustments the team made to shift momentum.
“We knew they were going to come in at 3-5-2, which is something we’re not really used to,” Hong said. “So we definitely put a lot of work into … how we’re going to press their attack. But I think a lot of it came from our switching of the ball. We try to use both sides of the field really well and tire them out a little bit. I think that really helped us in the latter half.”
Head coach Jennifer Scanlon echoed Hong’s point, adding how the Sagehens used the Lutes’ strengths against them.
“[PLU has a] really dangerous attacking style that we had to sort out how … to defend” Scanlon said. “Once we saw that we were able to secure the ball, get the rhythm and be able to play to our strengths.”
Following a back and forth swing for over 20 minutes, the Sagehens got their first significant chance when a free kick from midfield landed at the feet of Kelsey Shintaku PZ ’24, who fired a shot that barely missed wide.
With another shot on goal, this time by Isla Burch PZ ’24, saved by the Lutes keeper, P-P kept the pressure on PLU heading into halftime. Still, the score remained knotted at nil apiece as a chorus of vuvuzelas cheered on the Hens heading into the half.
From the moment the whistle blew signifying the start of the second half, the Saghens picked up where they left off. Earning their first corner of the match just over a minute in, P-P failed to capitalize as Ng sent a shot high over the net. Just minutes later, Amanda Khu PO ’25 also took a shot from inside the box, but the ball was off target to the left.
This became the story of the next 40 minutes as P-P fired nine shots, with none landing in the back of the net. Five of these shots came from Hong, who is ranked seventh in the conference for overall goals scored this season.
Hong’s best chance came in the 81st minute. Standing right in front of a wide open goal, Hong’s foot flew over the ball, keeping the game scoreless.After a few more chances for P-P, including a last-minute shot by Hong proved fruitless, the Sagehens and Lutes were headed to overtime.
In the NCAA tournament, teams play two full 10-minute overtime periods. If the game is still tied after the second period, they go to a decisive penalty shootout, which is how the Sagehens fell to Trinity Texas one year earlier.
Determined to not let history repeat itself, P-P went on the attack early in the first overtime period. Getting good chances on two corners just a couple minutes in, the Sagehens did not let up, keeping possession deep into Lutes territory.
The play came off a throw-in near the corner as a deep cross from Anjali Nuggehalli PO ’26 flew into the box, perfectly placed for Hong. Catching the PLU defense off-guard, Hong saw the opportunity for a header, sending the ball soaring right over the keeper’s head and into the goal.
As the Sagehens rushed Hong in jubilation, the 1-0 deficit deflated the Lutes. Without much offense to show throughout the game, the single-score lead looked to be insurmountable.
Hong described her elation at coming through when the team needed it most.
“In the first 90 I had a couple of chances on goal but unfortunately [it] went out or went over the goal, so I was definitely a little frustrated with myself,” Hong said. “During our little break [before overtime] we talked about how our outside wings need to get on the post, get to the goal and be anticipating that goal. So I had that in mind and luckily it went in.”
Scanlon spoke on the team’s struggles with corners throughout the match and commended Hong’s improvisational abilities.
“We [told the team] quality of service and quality of runs have to be on the same page,” Scanlon said. “Throughout the game, we had good runs but not good service or not good service [but] not good runs. [Hong’s goal] actually wasn’t a perfect sequence, but we just found a way.”
Hong’s goal would prove to be the difference maker. As the clock ran out on the second overtime period, the Sagehens rushed the field victorious, successfully defending their home turf.
The win was especially meaningful as many players described the heartbreak of losing in penalties in the first round just a year ago. Nuggehalli expressed how important this win was for P-P.
“It’s awesome that we were able to play at home with all our fans at our field that we know and love,” Nuggehalli said. “I think this just gives us courage that we can beat any team in the country. We’re good enough. We have the heart, we have the skill and I’m really looking forward to doing it again tomorrow.”
Tragically, the Sagehens would only make it one step further than last year, falling just a day later to Cal Lu 0-1 after having toppled them on Nov. 4 to win the conference. Despite outshooting the Regals 16-3 with the Sagehens putting six on goal to Cal Lu’s one, that singular shot was all they needed to sneak into the Sweet 16 and end P-P’s fall 2023 season.
The loss was P-P’s first of the season, closing their 2023 campaign with a record of 16-1-3. As five seniors depart, their young core will look to break out of Regionals and even further beyond in 2024.