The Pomona-Pitzer women’s soccer team advanced to the SCIAC Tournament final on Thursday evening, Nov. 5, holding off No. 1 University of Redlands in the semi-final to leave P-P (10-8-1, 7-6-1 SCIAC) just one more win away from a berth in the NCAA Division III tourney. The Sagehens, who entered the tourney as the fourth seed, began the week unsure if they would even be able to participate in postseason play as they headed into an encounter last Saturday, Oct. 31 at conference struggler Chapman University (6-11-2, 2-10-2), needing both a positive result and for other games to go their way.
With the pressure on the visiting team, P-P came out of the blocks firing on all cylinders and within five minutes managed to hit the front. When forward Danika Bethune PO ’17, the team’s leading scorer and one of SCIAC’s top offensive players, was given too much space outside the Panthers’ penalty area, the junior lined up an unstoppable shot into the top corner from 15 yards after shaking loose a Chapman defender. The 17th minute saw a very similar goal play out once again for the Sagehens, as midfielder Alyssa Kim PZ ’17 found a cross into the feet of midfielder Abby Gold PO ’18, who, from a distance similar to Bethune’s strike, also found the top right-hand corner of the net.
The advantage held to halftime, and it seemed as if P-P had given itself an excellent chance at postseason progression. The Sagehens’ hold on the three points became tenuous early in the second half however, when Chapman’s Julia Diaz was able to burst down the wing and zing a square ball into the path of Lindsay Erl, who held her nerve from a tight angle to beat goalie Annie Wedel PO ’16. P-P attempted to slow the rhythm and close the game out, but showed signs of nerves as the offense seemed to lose fluency and the defense began to grow increasingly strained.
In the 68th minute, the Sagehens’ advantage was extinguished: a cheap foul on the edge of the penalty area allowed Jessica Loya to swing a delivery onto the head of Haley Fedden, who bulleted the shot past Wedel. Knowing that a draw would leave them reliant on other teams in order to secure a playoff berth, the Sagehens attempted to rally, but found the Chapman defense a surprisingly difficult one to crack.
In the 81st minute, with the match apparently winding towards OT, it seemed as if P-P’s tournament hopes had taken a fatal blow. An Erl corner found Fedden once again, who reiterated her aerial prowess once more to nod home a header that seemed to put a dagger in the Sagehens’ hopes of a fifth consecutive SCIAC postseason appearance. P-P refused to give up, however, and pushed forward in both desperation and hope as attackers were thrown on and defenders ushered up front. With the clock ticking down on the season, it was Bethune who proved the heroine, as a scramble in the Chapman penalty area saw the forward latch on to a loose ball and slide a composed finish past Kristin Kleinow to tie matters at 3-3.
With the Sagehens’ season alive once more, the game headed into OT, where P-P had the opportunity to all but secure a playoff berth. Unfortunately, the effort expended in regular time seemed to catch up with the visitors, who failed to create a meaningful chance in the extra 20 minutes. With the Panthers content to play out the draw during their Senior Day, the game ended 3-3, leaving P-P nervously waiting for the other SCIAC results. Luckily for the Sagehens, Sixth Street rival CMS ended up providing a vital favor with the Athenas, already assured of a postseason berth, holding Whittier College to a goalless draw. The result kept the Poets in fifth place, just behind the Sagehens, who entered the SCIAC Tournament as the fourth seed.
Having edged into the postseason, the Sagehens were able to turn their attention to a Thursday night visit to first seed Redlands (11-5-2, 9-4-1), the regular season champions who had been thrashed 7-0 by P-P in September. The match started as a cagey affair as both teams looked to feel each other out. The first real chance of the game came in the 29th minute, as the home team’s Savannah Laursen saw a shot saved from P-P keeper Wedel, an action that triggered a truly extraordinary run of events.
In the tussle for the rebound from her stopped shot, Laursen was adjudged to have been fouled by a P-P defender, sending the Bulldogs’ leading scorer to the penalty spot with a chance to grab her team the lead. Laursen, who notched nine goals in regular season play, stepped up confidently enough, only to watch in disbelief as her penalty kick was saved brilliantly by Wedel. From the resulting corner kick, however, it seemed that the Sagehens had squandered their keeper’s efforts, as yet another foul was called against the visiting defense to give Redlands a second penalty in less than a minute of play. This time, Savannah Norquist stepped up for the home team but, unbelievably, Wedel was once again a colossus, keeping her nerve to read Norquist’s shot and get down to it to preserve the score line at 0-0. Wedel, a senior, was evidently keen to extend her P-P soccer career by at least one more game, and her heroics gave a confidence boost to the team, which started to be more adventurous in attack with Katie Tao PO ’17 notching the Sagehens’ first shot on target in the 34th.
In the 41st minute, the Sagehens finally found themselves rewarded for their indomitable spirit when Bulldog keeper Hannah Menk rushed rashly off her goal line in an attempt to deal with a loose ball forward from P-P. Menk misjudged the ball and found herself stuck as forward Peri Cuppens PZ ’19, enjoying a stellar first year on the team, out-raced the keeper to tap the ball into an open net.
After a truly remarkable first half, the score was 1-0 to the Sagehens and the onus was on the Bulldogs to come out on the attack. Redlands, however, struggled to find any great offensive fluency, facing a stout Sagehens squad marshalled well in defense by the likes of Nadia Alaiyan PO ’17, Jamie Kerester PO ’17 and Natalie Barbaresi PO ’16, who was brought on in the last quarter of the game to help the visitors close out the victory. The Bulldogs managed just two shots on target in the half, both of which were parried by Wedel’s substitute, Corey Goelz PO ’17.
The Sagehens also managed two attempts on frame, both of which came from the boot of Gold and were saved by Menk’s halftime replacement, Lexi Felix. In the end, it was a fairly low-key follow-up to the frenetic first half, but it mattered little to the Sagehens, who held firm till the final whistle for a gutsy 1-0 win. California Lutheran University (9-8-2, 7-5-2), victor over CMS in the other semi-final, will be the next destination for the Sagehens, who will look to ride their tailwind of momentum all the way to the national stage.