Soccer captures NCAA berth, first ever championship in penalty shootout

The women’s soccer team won its first ever Centennial Conference championship this past weekend. Photo courtesy of Swarthmore Athletics.

The feeling of dejection permeated throughout Clothier Field. It was October 2 and Swarthmore had fallen victim to Johns Hopkins in a brutal conference loss. In the 90th minute, a Johns Hopkins header broke the 1-1 tie and ultimately decided the 2-1 Hopkins win.

On November 9, just over a month later, the roles had switched.  It was the women in Hopkins baby blue who were heartbroken and the women in garnet who basked in celebration.

However, before the game, and even before the tournament began, not many people expected Swarthmore (13-6-0) to be in a situation where they could hoist the trophy. Swarthmore came into the conference tournament as the fifth, and lowest, seed and had previously lost conference matchups to three of the other four teams in the tournament.  Yet, in the tournament, Swarthmore put the doubters to rest after convincing wins against Muhlenberg (11-5-2) and 19th ranked Gettysburg (13-3-1).

The Garnet had one more seemingly gargantuan task: take down 22nd-ranked Johns Hopkins (16-3). Hopkins, a conference stalwart, had won eight of the last nine Centennial Conference championships and had been ranked as high as 7th in the nation. But the Swarthmore players didn’t let Hopkins’ reputation faze them.

Just ten minutes into the game, Hopkins scored on a one-on-one with Swarthmore goalkeeper Reba Magier ’16 after a beautiful through ball left Magier without defense. The players would not let this goal discourage them.

“Our team has been really great this year about not giving up,” Magier said. “Even when we get scored on in a crucial moment in the game, we don’t put our heads down. We just look forward and want it even more.”

Swarthmore did want it even more.

Just five minutes later, Swarthmore responded. It all started in the neutral zone. Forward Emma Sindelar ’15 dribbled up the right sideline and across the midline. Then, she cut left beautifully and looked up to see center midfielder Caroline Khanna ’17 in the open space. Sindelar delivered a through ball to Khanna who carried the ball in with speed. As she approached the eighteen yard-box, Khanna ripped a shot off her right foot that eluded the goalie’s outstretched arm and ricocheted off the crossbar and into the net.

Even Khanna seemed a little shocked by her goal. She acknowledged, “I hardly ever shoot the ball so I don’t know what possessed me to do it, but I did and it went over the keeper.”

The teams went back and forth the rest of the half, Hopkins controlling the ball more early on and Swarthmore pushing the ball later in the half. In the 54th minute, Hopkins broke the tie.

After this goal, Khanna heard a Hopkins player tell her teammates, “Okay, let’s get three more!” For Khanna and the rest of the Swarthmore team, this lit a fire. Having already been through so much, the Garnet knew they would not concede.

Sindelar recalled, “In the huddle before the game started, we were basically like, at no point in this game, no matter what happens, are we going to believe that we’re not coming out of here with a win.”

The team’s resilient attitude paid off. Ten minutes after the Hopkins goal, Swarthmore defender Amanda Bosworth ’16 won a scrum in front of the net and knocked in a Melissa Trofa ’16 corner kick to tie the game 2-2.

“When we score on Hopkins, they have no idea how to react,” Magier said, alluding to Hopkins’ ability to finish games. “We have the advantage that we don’t put our heads down after a goal.”

After falling behind twice and responding each time, the Garnet separated itself from other teams, proving they were not fazed by Hopkins’ stellar reputation.

The game stayed tied through the end of regulation and through the first overtime. At this point, the players were exhausted.

However, Khanna recalled, “We wanted to keep playing … to keep going and going. And I think they just wanted to score and be done with it.”

Although the position players possessed the willpower to keep playing, Magier had a different opinion.

She admitted, “I wanted it to [get to a penalty shootout]. I really did.”

The second overtime concluded without a team putting together a quality scoring chance. Magier got her wish.

The first shooter was Sindelar. She blasted a perfect shot that nested in the top right corner. 1-0 Swarthmore.

However, Sindelar admitted, “It’s not where it was supposed to go. It was supposed to go bottom right: that’s kind of my spot.”

That said, even if Sindelar hit her intended spot, the ball would have gone in anyway, as the goalie guessed wrong and dove left.

Hopkins shot next and Magier made a quality save diving to her right to preserve the Swarthmore lead. However, the cushion was short-lived as Trofa, the next shooter, had her shot saved and the next Hopkins player deked Magier to knot the penalty kicks 1-1.

Mele Johnson ’17 shot next for Swarthmore and buried a beautiful shot to the lower left side of the net. 2-1 Swarthmore.

Hopkins responded, followed by a Swarthmore goal from Aine Schanche ’16. Magier saved the next Hopkins shot, meaning that a goal from Swarthmore shooter Caroline Khanna would give Swarthmore the title. Khanna missed wide right.

But Swarthmore had another chance to win. If Magier saved the Hopkins shot, they would be crowned champions. However, the Hopkins shooter made her shot, tying the shootout 3-3.

Under a tremendous amount of pressure, Hannah Lichtenstein ’17, Swarthmore’s next shooter, buried her kick.

Swarthmore was presented with another opportunity. But again, the Hopkins shooter converted. The shootout was tied at four.

Even after Swarthmore couldn’t capitalize on three chances to win, according to Sindelar, no player on the team was discouraged.

“As our mentality was for the whole game: there’s no way we’re leaving here without the win,” she said. “[I was] still confident.”

Magier was not disheartened either. “You’re not expected to make any saves as a goalie.  The fact that we can even make one is surprising because we don’t have an advantage at all. It’s basically a 50-50 guess.” Magier reiterated, “To let in two goals, it’s fine, because I’m not expected to make [a save]. I just know that as long as I make some [saves] or one it will help us.”

In the seventh round of the shootout, Swarthmore called on its first freshman, Claire O’Brien ’18.

O’Brien said, “I had known that I was in the lineup somewhere. And I had taken penalty kicks before so I knew that I needed to stay calm and not let my mind wander and just go into the penalty kick completely blank. I knew I was ready. I didn’t want to give up that chance to help the team out.”

It would be an understatement to say that O’Brien helped the team out. She sniped the ball to the left and it placed it just out of the reach of the diving net-minder. Swarthmore took the lead again; Magier would have her third chance to win the title.

Right as the Hopkins kicker was about to kick the ball, Magier knew.

She said, “The way [she] used [her] hips and [her] movement. I could easily read it. Before she kicked I knew I was going to save it.”

The shooter connected with the ball, sending it left. But Magier stayed with the ball the whole way, punching it out and securing Swarthmore’s first ever Centennial Conference title.

The goal gave the Garnet its third consecutive tournament victory against teams it had previously lost to during the regular season. Sindelar described the feeling best, saying, “Revenge is a dish best served three times.”

Though they earned the name “champion,” the team now has to quickly change its mindset to winning another championship — the NCAA title. With a game against Connecticut College at 7:30 p.m. this Saturday, all the players know the transition needs to be a quick one.

Khanna said, “Over the conferences and especially on Sunday, I saw something different from our team. I saw a lot of emotion that I haven’t seen before.”

The players hope that if they can continue to play with this passion, they will be able to shock more teams, just like they did at the Centennial Conference tournament.

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