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April 11, 2024

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Magical run ends for women’s soccer

MUNCIE, Ind. – It could have been the perfect ending to a fairy tale season for the BG women’s soccer team, but luck fell in favor of Toledo which claimed the Mid-American Conference championship on Sunday in the final shot of penalty kick overtime.

“When you lose that final game of the season you come to a very abrupt halt,” said BG Coach Andy Richards.

The Falcons’ who began the season below .500 worked their way back to a 10-9-3 record, earning the No. 4 seed in the tournament where they knocked off Eastern Michigan and top-ranked Ball State both in overtime to earn their spot in the championship match.

“It looks like a turn-around season and yet I think that we lost to some very good teams this year,” Richards said, referring to the team’s powerhouse opponents in 15th ranked West Virginia, 22nd ranked Purdue. The Falcons also faced Kentucky and Michigan State, which prepared the team for MAC competition and helped lead them to Sunday’s championship match in Muncie, Ind.

The term championship match can be used loosely to describe play on Sunday, where typical play in soccer was thrown out the door and left in the hands of Mother Nature.

As if the historic rivalry wasn’t enough, the game field, which was filled with large puddles of water, played host to sliding players who splashed the water with every stomp of their cleats, the ball often getting trapped in the sinkholes of water, trapping the ball for nearly 10 seconds each time.

For this championship, it was all about who could battle through the adversity of the day, or simply the team who could stay on its feet the longest and play the lie of the puddles best.

“The conditions were awful, the field is not in good shape to begin with and when you add the rain to it – it was ridiculous,” Richards said.

“Had it not been a championship game I don’t know if the referees would have let the game happen”that’s not the stage you should have for a championship”

With 9:59 left to go in the first half and BG leading 1-0 after a free kick by Brianne Eisenhard found its way into the upper right corner of the net, play was suspended on account of lightning and resumed over an hour later, as the rest of the half played out with no additional scoring.

Coming out after a brief halftime break on account of the lightning delay, the hustle and determination of both teams could be seen in their mud-stained and soaked jerseys.

After being on the defensive for much of the first half, it was the Rockets’ who came out in an offensive spurt, knocking in a goal, only to be waved off by the referee just five minutes into the second half on an off-sides call.

Soon after, the Rockets capitalized on their first goal headed in by Brittany Hensler on a cross.

But BG had an answer as Katie Stephenson gave a lead pass to Corbie Yee, who knocked in a slow roller past Toledo goalkeeper Andrea Plewes who was pulled out of the net trying to reach the ball before Yee, unsuccessfully.

And again the Falcons’ were up by a goal as the rain finally slowed, but not making much of a difference for the already flooded game field.

It looked as though Toledo would tie things up with 20 minutes left in regulation, when they were awarded a free kick just outside the goal box, following a collision, but the ball sailed high and wide and left BG to work the clock in their advantage.

Despite the team’s best efforts to clear the ball and keep it out of the danger zones on the field, the Rockets’ found a way to break through, scoring on a corner shot headed in by Erin Flynn.

As the score evened at 2-2, the game became less of a match and more of an epic as the clock wound down and headed to overtime.

In this match up, neither team was a stranger to overtime, having played 110 minutes in their semi-final matches on Friday, which were also decided by penalty kicks.

The first overtime went by without much excitement as both teams were mostly on the defensive, but tensions still ran high as a yellow card was handed out to a Toledo player.

As the first overtime came to a close and both teams stepped onto the field in the second, players were running on pure adrenaline, having put in nearly 220 minutes of soccer on the weekend.

Both teams had a chance to score, but as fate would have it, the match would be determined by penalty kicks.

Following the same lineup as Friday’s penalty kick round, Colleen Kordan started BG off on the right foot shooting a goal past Plewes.

Toledo followed suit, with a goal as BG had its next two kicks blocked putting them down 2-1 after their kick as the Rockets’ third kicker banked a ball off the right cross bar.

Things began to look grim for the Falcon’s as Samantha Bland’s kick sailed over the goal, but Christy Zabek, the veteran goal keeper who was put in to replace red-shirt freshman Alexa Arsenault for the penalty kick round, blocked the fourth kick against her counterpart in Toledo’s goalkeeper keeping BG alive for another kick.

“I try to read and understand how they are going to go”but when it all comes down to it I am going on my gut feeling and instincts,” Zabek said.

The odds were in favor of Zabek who recorded a shutout in the penalty kick round of the semi-final match on Friday.

When it comes to defending penalty kicks, it’s nothing personal between goalkeepers, according to Zabek who was given confidence from Arsenault heading into the penalty kick round.

“I want you to go in because I have full faith in you to save these PK’s,” said Arsenault to Zabek before her first appearance in Friday’s penalty kick round.

As BG’s fifth kicker Stacey Lucas booted her shot in, it all came down to the fifth and final kick by Toledo’s Rachel White, who knocked it in the right side of the goal, opposite of Zabek who took her chances to the left.

And with that kick, the season came to a close for the Falcons just short of capturing their third championship trophy in four years.

“I have great pride that we were able to achieve this again”we will strive to do the same next year and beyond,” Richards said.

Accepting their runner-up plaque, three BG players were also honored in being name to the All-MAC tournament team including: Brianne Eisenhard, Colleen Kordan and senior Tiernay Tilford who along with Rachel Ross, Tiffany Hansen and Danielle Cygan played their last game in a Falcon uniform.

“They’ve had a tremendous four years. Despite the disappointment, they should be proud of what they achieved in their time here,” Richards said of the four seniors.

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