Sagehen women’s soccer continues historic season with NCAA Final Four appearance

women in blue soccer uniforms celebrate a victory, yell and jump in air
The P-P women’s soccer team celebrates after their match against Washington University. The women’s team advanced to the NCAA Division III Tournament National Semifinal Nov. 24 (Courtesy of PP Athletics)

It’s been a whirlwind season for the Sagehen women’s soccer squad, whose near-perfect regular season record and slew of individual personal bests have catapulted them to new heights into the Final Four of the NCAA Division III National Championship. 

The No. 8 Hens (20-1-2, 12-1 SCIAC) are currently in Greensboro, North Carolina, where they face off Friday against No. 2 William Smith, joining No. 1 Messiah and Carnegie Mellon in the Final Four.

The P-P women’s soccer team’s season was a comeback story three years in the making, especially for the seniors who made it to the NCAA tournament their freshman year, but were eliminated one step shy of the Final Four. 

“It’s a huge accomplishment, something that this group did our seniors did as freshmen. We’ve been fighting hard for the last couple years to get ourselves back in that position,” head coach Jen Scanlon said, turning to address some members of her team during an NCAA second-round postgame interview. “Now we’re back here again because you never wavered from that commitment, you never gave up even when luck didn’t quite go our way a couple of those years.”

In addition to their stellar record, the Sagehens had numerous individual accolades this season, including 21 goals by midfielder Bria VarnBuhler PO ’20, breaking the P-P program record and putting her in a tie for third among all Division III players.

Another standout this season, goalkeeper Isa Berardo PZ ’20, was among the nation’s top three in both the goals-against average and save percentage categories. 

VarnBuhler was also the SCIAC women’s soccer Athlete of the Year, while Berardo earned First Team All-SCIAC

“One of the things I said to the group the night before the [second-round] game was that we have an opportunity tonight to learn how good we are,” Scanlon said. “We learned that we can go out and win a game, you know, in a place that’s not in our comfort zone.”

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Despite the skill and successes of star players, the Sagehens have had to fight to make it into the Final Four, winning two of their three tournament games by a single goal. 

In their quarterfinal game against WashU, the team settled a 0-0 tie in penalty kicks — with Berardo making the save to secure the Hens’ ticket to the Final Four.  

In the third round, Anna Ponzio PZ ’22 scored the golden goal against the University of Chicago in overtime, securing the 1-0 victory that led the team to the Elite Eight. 

With their 1-0 win over Wartburg in the second round, the Hens continued their shutout streak and put their lockdown defense and goaltending on display once again.

“We played with so much composure and so much heart, and so even though they were pushing hard … we were able to put our foot through the ball, clear it when we needed to, we were able to play smart out of the back when we had to,” Berardo said. “I think we played some really smart soccer.”

Although the final scores of their tournament games have been close, the Sagehens have showed impressive grit in goal, boasting 20 shutouts in 23 games. All season, the Hens have only conceded five goals and haven’t given up a single goal in the 10 games leading up to Friday’s contest.

Today’s Final Four face-off will be the first meeting between P-P and William Smith. Both bring stellar defenses, the nation’s second-ranked (P-P) and third-ranked (William Smith) as measured by goals allowed and goals against average.

If the Sagehens come away with a win, they’ll compete against the winner of the other semifinal, Messiah or Carnegie Mellon, for the 2019 NCAA championship title Saturday.

If they pull this final feat off, it would be Pomona-Pitzer’s second national championship of the fall season, on the heels of the men’s cross-country team’s title just two weeks prior.

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