Historic Season Comes to an End as Sagehens Fall in Round of 32

The Pomona-Pitzer women's soccer team’s fine 2015 season was brought to an end this past week, with the Sagehens falling in their second game of the NCAA Tournament to bring the curtains down on an excellent year. After winning the SCIAC title, P-P (12-9-1, 7-6-1 SCIAC) headed out, full of confidence, to Bloomington, Ind., to face a University of Wisconsin, La Crosse team that earned an at-large bid to the tourney.

La Crosse showed its pedigree early, dominating P-P and crafting a series of good chances. Rachel Rogahn hit the crossbar in the 16th minute, before Sagehen goalkeeper Annie Wedel PO ’16 was forced into three saves in quick succession just to keep P-P in the game. By hook and crook, however, the Saghens were able to stay unscathed in the first half-hour, and were eventually the first team to score.

Midfielder Katie Tao PO ’17 lined up a wide-angled free kick from just outside the penalty area and lofted a delivery to the far post, towards the figure of defender Nadia Alaiyan PO ’17. Alaiyan, an All-SCIAC First Team defender, showed offensive instincts to power a header in for her third goal of the season. The lead took some of the sting out of the Wisconsin team, but the end of the half saw the Eagles once again in the ascendancy.

The pattern continued into the early minutes of the second half, as La Crosse won a free kick in dangerous territory outside P-P’s defensive area. The delivery from the Eagles was poor, and forward Danika Bethune PO ’17 attacked. Bethune powered back up the field with the ball at her feet, assessing her options before eventually delivering a pinpoint cross to fellow forward Abby Gold PO ’18 to slot home with composure.

It was a devastating counter attack, and with the 2-0 lead, it was difficult to see the Sagehens relinquishing their advantage. As P-P’s pressure built, the game was put beyond doubt in the 69th minute when defender Molly Mosher PO ’18 delivered a perfect through ball to forward Alyssa Kim PZ '17 to finish past the Eagle keeper.

The result now a formality, the rest of the game petered out, with the Sagehens happy to sit back and defend and the Eagles too tired and disheartened to mount a serious comeback. When the whistle finally blew on the 3-0 score line, the Sagehens were able to celebrate another moment of program history, winning an NCAA Tournament game and advancing to the Round of 32 for the first time ever. The women's soccer team was the first P-P sports team outside of cross country to win an NCAA postseason match in over 30 years. With the excellent achievement, the Sagehens advanced to face Illinois Wesleyan University, the seventh-ranked team in the nation.

P-P began well, bogging down Wesleyan in midfield, but the Titans began to gain the ascendancy after the 20th minute. Wedel had a very busy half, making five good saves and marshalling the defense, which also saw good games from Alaiyan and defender Jamie Kerester PO ’17. Halftime gave the Sagehens time to gather their breath, and they started the second half more confident on the attacking front, although defense remained the dominant theme of the performance.

Wesleyan managed to put the ball in the back of the net in the 51st after a weakly-cleared corner was lobbed back into the P-P penalty area, but an offside call saved the Sagehens. Titan keeper Katie Denney was forced into a couple saves, latching onto a header from Gold in the 71st and a long-range effort from Bethune in the 76th, but Wedel was definitely getting more practice, making six saves throughout the second half.

Despite the Wesleyan pressure, P-P showed tremendous fight, and with the defense holding firm by the end of 90 minutes the game was headed into overtime. The first period of extra time saw both teams understandably flag a little after the intensity of normal time, with Wedel making only one save as the Sagehens controlled possession. The second period of OT saw the Sagehens start shakily, a miscommunication in defense offering an easy opportunity for Amanda Kaiser, who spurned the chance. P-P’s attackers buzzed about dangerously as they attempted to get a clean look at goal, but the Sagehens were finally caught out in the 105th minute. A rare counterattack from the Titans saw the ball worked to Seger on the edge of the 18, who fired low across the goal. Wedel once again made an excellent save, but, cruelly, saw the deflection land at the feet of Seger to poke home into the empty goal.

It was a cruel end for Wedel, who ended her final game in P-P colors with a titanic 14 saves, but it was overall a tremendously credible effort from the Sagehens, who came achingly close to knocking off a nationally-ranked opponent at the end of an already historic year. As the team bids farewell to the class of 2016 (Wedel, Natalie Barbaresi PO ’16, Taylor Forston PO ’16, Nicole Fry PZ ’16, Julia Dohner PO ’16 and Mary Stafford PZ ’16), they can afford to look back on the year with immense satisfaction.

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