Tue. Jan 25th, 2022

It took more than 220 minutes of soccer over the span of 48 hours for the outcome to be decided, but West Chester gets to reign as PSAC Women’s Soccer Champions for another year and continue to build their reputation as the toughest team in the PSAC.The Rams found themselves in a shootout twice in a matter of two days in what became an exhausting attempt to defend their title. On paper, West Chester was the best team in the PSAC, finishing the season with a 13-1-0 record and a two-point lead over California (Pa.).

Saturday’s championship game at West Chester’s south campus field was a true battle of the best teams in the conference as West Chester and Cal battled back and forth for the number one spot all season long. In the regular season matchup, West Chester was able to grab the slim 1-0 win.

The championship proved to be just as closely played. Neither team could break through the other’s defense, giving the offense little opportunity at the other team’s goal. The Vulcans outshot the Rams in the first half 5-3 but the game went into halftime still locked in a tie.

The second half was similar to the first. The shots were perfectly even and it seemed like neither team was able to figure out the other.

Regulation ended the same way it began; in a 0-0 tie. The Rams, familiar to overtime, headed back into the extra time and tried to prevent the game from reaching a shootout.

In both overtime periods the Rams were able to get off three shots to the Vulcans’ one. Lyndsie Bernardini made an incredible save in the 105th minute to save the game, and the championship, for the Rams.

The final whistle blew, and still no balls reached the back of the net. To the best-of-five shootout they went.

Cal shot first. Carley Work missed wide of the net to give the Rams the potential advantage. Sarah Oswald, who led the conference in goals per game, stepped up to the ball for the Rams. Paula Jackson was able to get her hands on the ball, but it had too much power and slipped through her arms and into the lower right hand corner of the net, giving West Chester the 1-0 advantage.

Cal was eventually able to even it up when Kristen Orrett made her shot and Jackson saved Swaim’s attempt for West Chester. The team’s entered the third round in a 1-1 tie.

The game-changing moment came when Lyndsie Bernardini knocked away Cal’s Sara Di Benedetto’s shot into the left hand corner. The next four shooters, Kim Shoup and Lara Bodenstab for the Rams and Tonya Fabian and Darija Davidson for the Vulcans, all made their penalty shots.

West Chester’s last shooter, senior Jess Bennett, approached the ball with the shootout score all tied up. If she were able to convert, West Chester would win the game and the championship.

Bennett put such power behind the ball that Jackson wasn’t able to get a jump to even try to stop it. The ball sailed into the back of the net, securing the Rams fourth title in the past five years.

With the tournament win, West Chester will most likely hold onto the No. 1 seed. This will give them home field advantage up until the semifinals of the NCAA Division II Women’s Soccer Tournament. The tournament begins Friday, although West Chester will have a first round bye.

Saturday’s shootout victory of Cal was just a reprised role of Friday’s shootout victory over Slippery Rock in the semi-finals.

West Chester opened the scoring in the 40th minute when the Rams were awarded a penalty kick. Bennett converted for the Rams and gave them the 1-0 lead.

Slippery Rock was able to tie the game up with only 19 seconds left in the half when Ashley Paganie crossed the ball to Shelby Ward who sent the ball into the far side of the goal.

Although the first half was fairly evenly played, the second half was almost completely slanted in West Chester’s direction, as they outshot Slippery Rock 9-2.

Slippery Rock was able to gain the lead in the 74th minute when Rachel Knapp bent in a corner kick. However, their lead would only hold for five minutes until Oswald sent in a corner kick that was headed into the goal by Tara Malkiewicz.

Overtime continued to go West Chester’s way, but they could not find the back of their opponent’s net and got their first bit of experience in the shootout.

Slippery Rock’s Alison Hindley missed first followed by Oswald giving the Rams the 1-0 lead. Both Ashley Paganie and Devon Swaim made their second round shots.

Danielle Turner made her shot for Slippery Rock while Malkiewicz, whose goal sent the game into overtime, missed her attempt. The shootout score was back to a tie.

Alyssa Barrett and West Chester’s Cindi Nickles both missed their fourth round shots while Emer Flatley and Bennett both converted in the fifth round.

With the shootout score locked at 3-3, a sixth round was needed to potentially decide a winner. Slippery Rock’s Steph Buckenheimer aimed for the lower left hand corner, but Bernardini beat her there to make the save and put West Chester in a great position to grab the win.

Lara Bodenstab aimed high and placed the ball past Slippery Rock’s goalie to ensure the Rams a chance to play for the championship.

West Chester heavily outshot Slippery Rock in the second half and two overtime periods. The final shot totals favored West Chester 20-5.

West Chester’s quarterfinal game proved to be another close one for the Rams, but Melissa McKeary’s goal in the 41st minute of the game was all the Rams needed to advance to the semis.

McKeary’s goal came off of a pass from Swaim, who placed a ball across the mouth of the goal to a wide open McKeary who flicked the game-winner into the upper right hand side.

Bernardini made three saves for the Golden Rams and recorded her 14th shutout of the season. She led the entire conference this season in shutouts.

After Saturday’s game against Cal, Bernardini was named the tournament’s most outstanding player.

West Chester will have a long break until they get back into tournament action. With a first round bye, their extended time off will give the team much needed rest after their two elongated games this past weekend.

The announcement for tournament seeds and pairings will be made on Monday night at 7 p.m.

Amy Festa is a fourth-year student majoring in English with a minor in journalism. She can be reached at AF649219@wcupa.edu.

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