The Pomona-Pitzer women’s soccer team (11-8-1, 7-6-1 SCIAC) will head to the Midwest this weekend to compete in the NCAA Division III tournament after clinching the SCIAC title with a stirring win last week in the final against California Lutheran University (9-9-2, 7-5-2 SCIAC). P-P entered last weekend’s do-or-die match at the Regals’ field on the back of a thrilling road upset against first seed University of Redlands (11-5-2, 9-4-1 SCIAC) and had plenty of confidence, belying the fact that it scraped into the SCIAC tourney on the very last day of the regular season.
The final began as a slightly nervy affair as both teams seemed hesitant of making mistakes, but after the early impasse, the game began to open up. Forward Abby Gold PO ’18 worked the first shot on target of the game in the 16th minute, drawing a save from Cal Lutheran’s Coral Halsey, before P-P’s own goalkeeper Corey Goelz PO ’17 had to be alert to claw away an attempt in the 19th.
Gold had another decent effort saved in the 28th before forward Danika Bethune PO ’17, one of the Sagehens’ standout players of the season, failed to convert a one-on-one chance against Halsey after powering into the home team’s penalty area in the 30th. Bethune’s effort was the last offensive highlight of a half that featured plenty of resolute defending from both teams.
As has been custom all season, the Sagehens took the halftime break as an opportunity to switch keepers, putting in Annie Wedel PO ’16 for Goelz. Wedel was one of the heroines of the Redlands victory, saving two penalties in two minutes in the first half, and the experienced senior was massive once again for P-P, parrying fine shots from Kali Youngdahl and Bianca Deardorff early in the second half to keep the game scoreless.
The visitors’ defensive resilience was eventually rewarded in the 65th minute, when a deflected ball fell into the feet of Gold on the edge of Cal Lutheran’s penalty area. Keeping her composure, the forward feinted past three Regals defenders and maintained enough balance to slot a well-struck finish in the bottom left corner past a despairing Halsey.
With the lead theirs, the Sagehens would have been forgiven for trying to go into a defensive shell and see the game out, but P-P refused to cede the advantage, making attacking substitutions in the minutes following the goal, ostensibly in an attempt to get a second goal and make sure of the result. Cal Lutheran, which has enjoyed a productive goal-scoring season of its own, was not to go down without a fight, however, and pressed forward as the game wound down.
Nikole Prelooker tried her luck in the 73rd, only for Wedel to be once again up to the task of making an important save, while Cal Lutheran’s own net had a few lucky escapes with Halsey making some good stops in quick succession in the 83rd minute off attempts from Bethune and defender Natalie Barbaresi PO ’16. It was at times hectic stuff, but P-P kept its nerve to see out the win and, in the process, claimed its first-ever SCIAC tournament title, a win that had looked unlikely just a week or so before. The win also punched the Sagehens’ ticket to the NCAA Tournament, the first time P-P will compete on the national stage since 2005.
While the successes of the season were undoubtedly a result of team effort, several individual Sagehen players received special accolades of their own following the end of the tourney when the SCIAC Team of the Season was announced. Bethune, who finished the season with 11 goals and four assists across all games, was an obvious selection for First Team All-SCIAC honors, where she was joined by Nadia Alaiyan PO ’17, P-P’s defensive rock all season. The All-SCIAC Second Team featured three more Sagehens: Alyssa Kim PZ ’17 slotted in the forward line on the back of seven goals and seven assists, playmaker Katie Tao PO ’17 was selected in midfield after an industrious season at the heart of the P-P team, and Barbaresi featured at the back after an excellent senior season as a reliable defensive outlet.
Monday’s NCAA draw now has the Sagehens gearing up for a trip to Bloomington, Ill., where they will face University of Wisconsin, La Crosse (12-6-2), who received an at-large bid after falling in the semi-finals of the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Tournament. The Eagles are strong opposition, playing as they do in one of the stronger conferences in DIII, but in a season that has already been an unqualified success for P-P, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Sagehens had another result or two in them.