Heading into last Saturday, the Centennial Conference playoff picture was a simple one. With a win over Haverford (11-5-1, CC: 4-5-1), Swarthmore (15-1-0, CC: 9-0-1) could capture the regular season title, the number one seed in the tournament and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
From start to finish, the game possessed a surprising amount of physicality. With many contended balls and little open space, chances were hard to come by. However, in tough games like these, great teams find a way to pull through. In the 16th minute Hannah Lichtenstein ’17 did just that, connecting on a long shot to put Swarthmore on the board — a goal that proved to be the game winner.
Although she scored a goal, coming into the game, Lichtenstein was in a bit of a slump. She currently ranks third in the conference in goals (11) and third in points (31); however, she had not scored in the past two games including the 6-0 win at Bryn Mawr where she had multiple chances.
“When I got the ball from Caroline (Khanna ’17) about 30 yards out in the Haverford game,” Lichtenstein said, “I knew I didn’t have the pace to take that defender on the dribble, particularly with the grass surface so I just decided to hit it from there. After it went in, it was kind of a mixture of shock, relief, and of course, excitement. I guess statistically it just made sense that my next shot would go in after all those misses in the game before.”
Even after the goal, the game still did not open up. On the contrary, it became more clustered and Haverford increased its attack. From this point on, Swarthmore only attempted four shots, while Haverford registered eleven. The defense had one of its most challenging games of the year and it stepped up, staving off Haverford for 90 minutes to preserve the 1-0 win. Though this slow style of play was an anomaly for Swarthmore – a team that thrives in space and often dominates the pace – the result remained the same: a Swarthmore win.
With the victory, the Garnet ensured that the Centennial Conference tournament would go through Clothier Field. Swarthmore’s first match will be on Saturday at 2 pm against the winner of the play-in game between #4 Gettysburg (CC: 7-2-1) and #5 Ursinus (CC: 7-3).
Interestingly, with a Gettysburg win, the semi-final matchup between Swarthmore and Gettysburg would be a repeat of the 2014 tournament. However, last year, the tables were turned; it was Gettysburg that had the #1 seed and home-field advantage. In that game, Swarthmore set the tone early. In the 9th minute, Mele Johnson ’17 sparked the team, finding the back of the net on a long strike. After the goal, the team never looked back, cruising to a 2-0 win.
Johnson noted the differences between the 2014 tournament and the 2015 tournament.
“Last year, we knew we were the underdogs and that kind of carried us a little bit,” Johnson said. “No one expect[ed] us to do much. Everything came from us…But, this year, we know we’re the best and we know that we can beat every team in our conference.”
The confidence Johnson alluded to could not be more justified. Dating back to last season, Swarthmore has gone undefeated in its past fifteen conference matches. Not to mention, during that span, the team won the 2014 Centennial Conference tournament and won the 2015 Centennial Conference regular season. Through this success, Swarthmore has not only commanded the fear and respect of the other conference teams, but it has also thrust itself onto the national stage.
For the past four weeks, Swarthmore has been in the NCAA National Coaches Top 25 Poll. This week, they even moved up two spots from number fourteen to number twelve. Perhaps the biggest reason for the team’s continued success is its knack for sticking to the weekly gameplan and its ability not to pretend that its ranking will protect them from opponents. The Garnet have shown up to every game and let their play do the talking.
The team may have garnered national recognition; however, the season will only be a success if the team wins its next two games and walks away with its second Centennial Conference Tournament Championship. In order to do that, in addition to defeating Gettysburg/Ursinus, the Garnet will also need to go through #3 McDaniel or #2 Johns Hopkins (Sunday at 2 pm). Both of those teams played the Garnet competitively. McDaniel was a mere two seconds away from defeating the Garnet. If not for Katherine Zavez’s 90th minute goal, it might have been McDaniel with home field advantage and the momentum rolling into the tournament.
A final with McDaniel might go wire to wire, but a final between Hopkins and Swarthmore, a rematch of the 2014 final, would make for a better story.
“It [would] definitely be a big matchup,” Johnson said. “We’re already big rivals and we’ve beat them once so they’re coming for us. But, honestly, I’ve never seen our team get more fired up than when we play Hopkins. I think that it’s always a good matchup and playing them makes us better.”
Though Swarthmore has prevailed in its two previous matches against Hopkins, in order to win this one, it is vital that they compete with the #5 seed chip that they have played with for the past year. If the team continues to tap into that motivation, a repeat will certainly be within reach.