By Grant Playter | Staff Writer
It was a blowout victory for the TCNJ Lions against the Virginia Wesleyan College Marlins this past Sunday in the second day of the second-round of the NCAA tournament. The Lions shut out the Marlins 3-0, advancing to the Top 16 in the Division III Championships at the Lions soccer complex.
The Lions improved to 20-0 on the season. The Marlins capped off their season with a 15-7-1 record.
“We saw the openings in their back so we could slot through,” Jessica Goldman, a midfielder for the Lions, said. “And that’s how we got a lot of our goals, so I think everything’s just clicking and we were making the right decisions.”
Their first goal was made early in the first half by Elizabeth Thoresen off of an assist from Goldman. Recounting the experience to the media, Goldman explained how the play developed.
“I think it was a turnover, but I ended up getting the ball and I saw her making a diagonal run,” Goldman said. “And if I could get it early enough she would be on-sides. I just slotted it to her, a heavy enough ball for her to run onto, and she got there and brilliantly passed it past the keeper.”
Goldman would be involved in all three scoring plays in the game. Further along in the second half, Thoresen would repay the favor and assist Goldman in her own goal. Goldman would then assist once again on a scoring play, helping Christine Levering put the final goal of the game in the net early on in the second half.
“I knew that when it’s two-nothing that’s probably the worst score to have because whatever goal happens next kinda changes the whole game,” Levering said. “I knew that if we scored early, I feel like it would kind of shut them down a little bit. Jessie slotted, like, a perfect ball, I took a touch, and just finished it so I’m just happy that we got it done today and just finished it.”
The Lions didn’t just dominate offensively, making an astounding 32 shots throughout the game. The defense stepped up to the plate this game, allowing just two shots throughout the game, something the players were quick to point out when asked about the blow-out.
“I think our defense was awesome all around,” Goldman said. “It started from our front line with our forwards defending, it didn’t really get to our back line much and when it did, besides the two shots, I think we just shut them down.”
Thoresen had similar praise for the defense, praising the cohesiveness of the unit when asked if the offense presented opportunities for the defense.
“I think, either way, our defense is so disciplined and they know exactly where to be at the right time and they have such good chemistry together,” Thoresen said. “[That] it doesn’t matter what the offense really does, they just can get the job done no matter what it is.”
The Lions head coach, Joe Russo, affirmed his player’s statements regarding the quality of midfield and defensive play from his team.
“I think our team defense has been very, very good,” said Russo. “The pressure and the way the kids pressed in the midfield has been effective, the back line has been very good, solid, and the goalkeeping has been exceptional. It’s a collective effort for us, defending-wise.”
The Lions won the NJAC title this year after a four-year drought, having last accomplished the feat in 2013. The team has been performing at a high-level in all these years, having a streak of NCAA tournament appearance going all the way back to 1991, but have struggled to make it deeper in recent years.
“I’m ecstatic for them because I thought we’ve been playing very, very well, but we had stumbled at this point the last couple of years,” Russo said. “It’s good, it’s rewarding, and I thought we played, very well actually, in stretches. I thought it was a very good start for us.”
The Lions will play again on November 18th, looking to make the Elite Eight this weekend at home. TCNJ will host Lynchburg College this Saturday at 11 am.
“You have to have relentless attitude no matter what,” Thoresen said. “Because even though, we were up two-nothing in the first half of the game, one goal can completely change the attitude and can change the flow of the game. Just from experience, we know it doesn’t matter what the score is, we come out with the same attitude as if it’s zero-zero.”