The Rowan University women’s soccer team had the daunting task of heading up to Ewing, N.J. when they took on the number one ranked team in the nation, The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) Lions, for the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) Championship Friday night, Nov. 5.
The first half started with multiple scoring opportunities for each team. For the Profs, leading scorer Aidan Sheehan saw two solid opportunities that resulted in two shots on goal, but Lions goalkeeper Alexandra Panasuk was able to handle them.
The Lions were slightly more aggressive in the opening half as Emma Pascarella and Gianna Coppola saw early opportunities to score, but weren’t able to capitalize. Bristol Pizzuto, the goalie for the Profs, collected two saves in the first half from the ten shots she faced.
Although the half contained various back and forth possessions, in which the Lions outshot the Profs, Pizzuto was pleased with their first half performance.
“I think that we tried our best to get opportunities towards goal and although we didn’t put them away we played aggressive and didn’t cower back and let TCNJ take charge of the field,” Pizzuto said.
In the second half of the game, it was all TCNJ as they fired shot after shot at Pizzuto. Attempts to score came from inside the box, the middle of the field, and on corner kick attempts. Pizzuto knew the Lions were going to come out strong in the second half.
“I expected them to come out harder after the second half, especially since it was the finals and we were both tied 0-0. I just knew that I had to do everything in my power to ensure that we kept that shutout,” Pizzuto said. “They did put a lot more pressure on us. I think that came from them realizing that we were a strong team and we wanted that win more than them.”
The Lions totaled 12 shots in the second half and had plenty of scoring opportunities with a missed penalty kick from Ava Curtis and two more shots that went off the top of the crossbar. The Profs’ defense, although they allowed shots, broke up multiple scoring opportunities and kept the game knotted up at 0-0.
“I think the defense played out of their minds, especially in the last two games. They were putting their bodies on the line and played with so much heart,” Pizzuto said.
In the now 18 games the Lions have played, only the Profs have prevented the stifling Lions offense, with 52 goals, from scoring.
The Profs did not get any shots off in the second half as it was their defense that held strong, led by seniors Arianna Durling, Kelsi Stangl, junior Kalin Priest and freshman Emma DeMaise. They surrounded the penalty box and cleared multiple prime scoring opportunities away from the Lions.
With the score all tied up at 0-0 at the end of regulation, the game headed into overtime, in which the first goal wins, even if the clock hasn’t expired.
The Profs knew that the Lions would be attacking early and opened up the first overtime strong, putting pressure on Panasuk and the Lions defense. Rowan took three shots in the first overtime, including a wide open look from Natalie Pantalone, a junior, in which she wasn’t able to score. Pantalone took one more shot in overtime and Durling had one of her own, but neither of which were on goal.
The Profs defense remained solid in the first overtime as well, as they did not allow TCNJ to get a shot off.
At the end of the first overtime, the teams headed to ten more minutes of extra play. During a corner kick attempt that resulted in a shot on goal, the Profs defense was right there once again to flush the opportunity away. The Lions took one shot in the second overtime, while the Profs did not take any.
In a physical game from the start, both teams aired out frustrations which resulted in late yellow cards being given out to both teams. Each squad ended the game with four yellow cards.
The game remained tied after two overtimes, in which it was a battle of the defenses until the end. The Profs only took five shots the entire game and Pizzuto collected seven saves. The Lions took 25 shots and Panasuk collected two saves in the game.
Not only did the Profs defense hold TCNJ scoreless in regulation, they only allowed one shot on goal in the two additional overtime periods. Pizzuto is proud of her defense, especially against the Lions in the championship.
“I’d say we have the best defense in the NJAC,” Pizzuto said. “We’re the only team that didn’t allow TCNJ a goal.”
It was now down to the goalies. After four regulation periods and two overtime periods, the winner of the 2021 NJAC Championship would be decided by penalty kicks.
Pizzuto was excited to face off in penalty kicks, but believes it does not show the true winner, just who came out on top in that moment.
“Honestly, I was super hyped up for [penalty kicks], I knew that I could save at least one and knew that pressure wasn’t on us entirely,” Pizzuto said. “It always is the worst ending a game in [penalty kicks] because it doesn’t show a true winner. It just decides who gets to hold the trophy.”
To start off, the Lions missed their first two penalty kick attempts from Julia Obst and Pascarella, while Rowan’s Jessica Logan, a junior, and DeMasie connected with the back of the net, giving the Profs a 2-0 lead.
After two successful penalty kicks from the Lions, a miss from Pantalone and a make from Emily Casale, a freshman, the Profs had the 3-2 lead, only needing two more to secure the title.
Sophomore Cassidy McErlain missed her penalty kick attempt while Stangl connected, but TCNJ would hit three penalty kicks in a row that allowed them to grab the win and the 2021 NJAC Championship, something they have accomplished every year since 2017, by a score of 0-0 (penalty kicks 5-4).
Although Pizzuto is disappointed with the outcome, she believes her and her teammates gave it their all on the field.
“I’m extremely proud of the team because we came out and worked our butts off and played with a ton of heart. We wanted it more than TCNJ and we technically tied the number one team in the nation which is definitely something to be proud of,” Pizzuto said. “We were up on them in penalty kicks, we just couldn’t put it away. Although the result is tough, it’s still something to be proud of.”
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