The UW-La Crosse soccer team could have hung its collective head when it had a goal wiped off the board in the 11th minute of Saturday’s WIAC tournament championship game against UW-Whitewater.
The Eagles could have pouted when the Warhawks took a 1-0 lead in the 32nd minute, and they could have started cursing when Margaret Harings saw her penalty kick carom off the right post and spin harmlessly out of play.
Somehow, despite a steady mist and barely-above-freezing temperatures, UW-L found a way to overcome everything thrown its way.
It took 90 minutes, two 10-minute overtime periods, and five rounds of penalty kicks, but the Eagles clinched the program’s first WIAC tournament title since 1996 by topping Whitewater 4-3 in penalty kicks, following two overtimes that couldn’t change the 1-1 score.
“I can’t say enough about the women on the team,” UW-L coach Jason Murphy said following the win, in which the Eagles earned the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Division III tournament. “They just really have this never-die effort. We see it every day in training. They take the goal back which we think is a good goal, then to go down, we just had to battle and battle.”
Freshman Kaitlyn Villars beat Warhawks goalkeeper Nina Yonan to the ball outside of the 18-yard box and put a shot on goal, which junior Alex Cording tapped in on the back post to give the Eagles what they thought was an early 1-0 lead.
After a conference by the referees after the play, it was ruled that Cording was offside on the play and the goal would be overturned.
Whitewater seized on the momentum, taking their own 1-0 lead on a goal by Karina Rosales on a play where freshman goalkeeper Lily Brock got caught being over-aggressive, leaving an easy finish for Rosales.
Brock said that, despite the mistake, she was confident that UW-L would have an aswer.
“I can bounce back because I believe that our girls are going to get another one, said Brock, who finished with six saves in 110 minutes. “I have two center backs that looked at me and said, ‘Ok, let’s go to work.’ I knew we had ample time so I knew we’d chase one back, for sure.”
Murphy went to his bench to bring in senior Rachel Rogahn and freshman Hayley Hargroder, who found the answer for the Eagles seven minutes later, as Hargroder finished an assist from Rogahn on the back post.
Following the goal, more than 70 minutes of action resulted in no additional scoring, pushing the game to a winner-take-all penalty kick shootout.
After Harings’ initial miss, Villars, and juniors Alex Cording, Maya Schmitt and Natalie Herzog all found the back of the net on their penalty kick attempts. Brock slid to her left to save the Warhawks’ third attempt, and when Rosales’ attempt hit the crossbar, the Eagles were finally able to celebrate.
Herzog said that the resolve that UW-L showed, especially in the shootout, came from training and preparation.
“We have been practicing, that’s one thing that we do work on in practice for sure,” Herzog said. “All we can ask is that everyone goes up there confident, and I think everyone went up there to do exactly what they do in practice.”
Even with the added pressure of a miss by her team early on, Brock saw it as an opportunity to step up.
“Going down one when we’re shooting first, it’s nice in the sense that I knew I could get one back,” Brock said. “Then I just do what I’m trained. I’ve been doing this kind of stuff since I was 8, so it’s just follow protocol and try to make a save.”
The two saves by Brock allowed the Eagles to first celebrate, then turn their focus to the NCAA Division III tournament, for which the pairings will be announced Monday.
“I think we just ride the wave we’ve been riding all season,” Brock said. “We’ve kind of had this hot streak going and we want to keep it going. It also comes down to the way that we train. We come in every day and we work really hard and follow what coach says. We try to be as creative as we can and just gameplan for whoever we play next.”