Sports

Women’s soccer advances in NCAA tournament

Bears defeat Monmouth in penalty kicks 4-1 to fuel first NCAA run in 25 years

By
Staff Writer
Sunday, November 17, 2019

A loss would have meant the end of the Bears’ season, but the win after 110 scoreless minutes took them to the tournament’s second round.

Brittany Raphino ’23 heard the whistle blow and did not move. She stared down Monmouth goalie Amanda Knaub before taking the game-deciding penalty kick during the women’s soccer team’s NCAA first round matchup Saturday afternoon.

If looks could kill, Raphino’s intense gaze singlehandedly ended a best of five shootout after a double overtime fight. Slowly but surely, a focused Raphino trekked away from the ball full of nothing but composure, and mounted baby steps back into her shot. With one blink, the ball was in the net’s corner, Bruno led penalty kicks 4-1 for a final game score of 1-0, and the squad rushed onto the field to celebrate advancing to the NCAA second round.

The Ivy League champions’ 12-1-2 record matched up against Monmouth’s 14-2-2 slate unafraid and with an appropriate level of respect under a beaming sun and Providence wind. Both teams are among the top-five best defensive teams in the country, but only one left victorious after over 110 minutes of game action.

Singer-songwriter Ciara’s “Level Up” further raised the stakes during both teams’ pregame huddles before Brown took to the patch. This game meant either level up to NCAA round two or have a season-ending loss.

Within the first five minutes, Brown earned a corner kick. Monmouth put its line all the way back, leaving the space between the 18 and six open. Sydney Cummings ’21 sent in a cross to Ava Seelenfreund ’23, who was right in the middle of the opening. Seelenfreund headed it just wide, but showed that Bruno intended to score as early as possible, just as it has all season.

Monmouth’s scouted defense knew who to stay close to. Abby Carchio ’20 went everywhere with defender Jill Conklin as her shadow. The Hawks’ Anna Lazur stuck to Raphino like glue, and Star White ’21 had little space to turn corners on the flank like she usually would. The Hawks intended to keep Bruno’s offense contained to the middle of the field and stifled the outside-inside playmaking that the Bears had heavily relied on throughout the season.

Bruno showed some relentless defensive pressure of its own. When Monmouth went to the wings during the first ten minutes, it stayed there and often involuntarily gave the ball up to Brown.

The wind was a third defensive pressure. During the first half, it blew from right to left against Brown’s direction of attack, which inadvertently helped Monmouth.

“The wind played a huge role,” Cummings said. “With the wind on your back, you had such an advantage. The first half we really just had to bunker down, and so that’s why there were a lot of mishits or balls that would normally carry but didn’t.”

Midway through the first half, Monmouth’s defense still limited meaningful touches for Brown midfielders and forwards. Bruno struggled to connect passes and execute plays. Carchio, White and Raphino got the ball to their feet but weren’t able to withstand swarming Hawk defenders that formed triangles around the scoring powerhouses.

“We didn’t do a good enough job finding (Raphino) and playing underneath with attacking center and springing the ball wide,” said Head Coach Kia McNeill. “Our build-up wasn’t good enough.”

The Hawks played with more confidence, as their offensive sets often sent Bruno scrambling around the goal and box in an effort to break up the play. Even on its heels, Brown communicated well, and it was enough to keep a scoreless tie thanks to Cummings, Kayla Thompson ’21, Rachyl Francisco ’23, Lauren Hinton ’22 and Cameron Brown ’21 wreaking havoc as the last mode of defense.

The Bears picked up their aggression a notch during the last five minutes of the half. Claire Meyers ’22 sent in a cross to Celia Story ’19.5, who kicked it just wide and past a diving Knaub. The play showed that Brown was not going to roll over and allow Monmouth to dictate the game.

At the half, Monmouth outshot the Bears 8-4 and took four corner kicks to Brown’s two.

The second half opened with the wind on Brown’s back. The difference immediately showed in Thompson’s punt that soared, unstifled, well into the back of the field. Monmouth still dominated possessions, often forcing Brown defenders to make the safe play and send it out of bounds to stop Hawk attacks.

“They beat us on a lot of 50-50 balls that we should’ve competed harder for, but our team defending the entire season has been incredible,” McNeill said. “For us to take this game to overtime and PKs says a lot about our defense and goalkeeping.”

The Hawks’ positioning appeared as though Monmouth had an extra player. They were in the right place before the ball even got there. Bruno would pass outside-inside or vice-versa straight into a defender who stripped them in the backfield. Meanwhile, Monmouth easily crossed the midfield and didn’t have a Bear pick the ball up until it was near the top of the box.

The next 10 minutes saw purposeless Bruno passes that Monmouth easily broke up and used to attack the other way. Raphino was unable to turn the corner on Lazur, as were the other wingers on the field. Nevertheless, Brown persisted. They worked the field and took shots when they could.

“Credit to (Monmouth),” Cummings said, “they’ve only given up four goals all season. We knew our forwards were really going to have to work hard. We knew we could get opportunities, and it’s unfortunate we couldn’t put them away.”

During the 89th minute, Maesyn G’Bye ’22 took a corner kick that two Bears headed, including Raphino. Entangled feet forced Knaub to dive, causing Brown to miss the prime opportunity of an open goal. G’Bye attempted to make a rebound, but Knaub took out her feet, which resulted in a no call. Monmouth sent it the other way and regulation ended on a controversial note. The second half closed with a 15-7 Monmouth shot advantage.

The first overtime started and ended scoreless with the Hawks swooping into the middle of what looked like promising Bear plays for the steal and attack. The second extra period told the same story.

Brown got a corner kick during the 110th minute as its Hail Mary. Knaub got a hand on the ball to force game-deciding penalty kicks.

Carchio took the first kick, reminding fans of her winning shot against Penn. She took her time after the whistle, showing all the composure of a senior, and netted it home.

Monmouth’s Jess Johnson scored against Thompson’s well-guarded goal for the tie. Then, Story stepped up to the mark and shot the ball in effortlessly. Thompson blocked Monmouth’s next attempt, which gave Bruno a one-point advantage.

From there, Brown sealed it home with another one of Thompson’s clutch rejections and goals from Seelenfreund and Raphino.

“I love PKs,” Thompson said about her “favorite thing in the world. Yeah, I saved two, but we didn’t miss any. It was just the composure (of) our team.”

Thompson’s big-time saves and the entire team’s effort qualified them for round two of the NCAA tournament. Next up, Brown will compete at No. 1 Florida State University Nov. 22 in hopes of advancing to the third round.

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