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Lions advance to the Elite Four after a nail biter

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By Maximillian C. Burgos | Staff Writer

Ewing, New Jersey —  The College of New Jersey Lions women’s soccer team pulled forward to the Elite Four round after beating Messiah College in penalty kicks 4-1. The game was tied at one-all in regulation. The game ultimately came down to an emotionally charged penalty kick round at the end.

Coming into the game, only two other opponents had scored on the Lions this season. Messiah managed to score in the 24th minute of the game on a header crossed in from the corner. Lions goalie Nicole DiPasquale jumped up to clear the ball but just missed it, allowing for Messiah defender Lydia Eichorn the opportunity to head the ball in.

DiPasquale lays out for a block in penalty kicks (Photo by TCNJ Sports Information Desk)

DiPasquale lays out for a block in penalty kicks (Photo by TCNJ Sports Information Desk)

After the header, the team gathered around Eichorn and celebrated. The goal would stand for 35 minutes before the Lions were able to answer with a score of their own.

Midfielder Jessica Goldman took a corner kick in the 40th minute. The ball came off her football with power as it bent toward the back post of the goal. A Messiah defender was able to get to the ball, but it deflected off of her into the goal.

“The wind was really frustrating,” Goldman said recalling the wind. “On the corner that became a goal, coach T actually to take a look at it and try to get it in goal. To be truthfully honest, I thought that’s really hard. I aimed for the six because the wind was just blowing that hard. So that was my mindset, aim extremely far out and the wind would take it into where I wanted to kick it.”

Just a few minutes later, Lions midfielder Taylor Nolan, had a breakaway opportunity. She nailed a kick headed toward the lower left of the goal, but the Messiah goalie was able to get there in time, just barely getting fingertips on it.

Messiah led an offensive attack of their own immediately afterward. The forwards managed to get behind the Lions defenders, who for most of the day managed to deflect any kind of offensive onslaught.

Messiah forward Brooke Firestone managed to get one-on-one DiPasquale. Firestone beamed a ball to the outer corner of the net, but it hit DiPasquale’s fingertips, then the post and out. The Lions would live to fight on.

“It was all a blur,” DiPaquale said. “I barely remember it.”

The Lions offensive push was far more fierce and sustained in the second half. In the second half, the Lions took 12 shots, six of which were saved by the Messiah goalie.

In the final minutes of regulation, both defenses clamped down. Most of the action as took place in the middle of the field as time came to an end.

“They were defiantly the best offensive team we’ve played,” defender Kelly Wieczerzak said after the game. “Having the wind against us was a little bit of a challenge. I think we responded very well to it. This game it was the most pressure we faced in the back end, but once we settled down, we did a good job taking care of what we needed to do and settle into our type of play. Once we did that we were composed and took care of business.”

Ultimately, with both teams efforts defensively, the game went into overtime, where both teams were only able to muster one shot apiece, forcing the game into penalty kicks.

Up first for the Lions in the penalty kick lineup was their all-time scoring leader, Christine Levering. Until this point, Messiah freshman goalie Lydia Ewing played a specular game. She had nine saves in the game and had contested every attack with grace and ferocity.

Levering took a few deeps breaths, lined up her kick and beamed a ball right past Ewing. The ball flew by at lightning speed. Ewing dove for it but even fully outstretched, she had no shot to block the kick.

“I just think the first one (penalty kick) is really important because it gets the momentum going,” Levering said. “So, I just knew that I had to get the first one. I knew that Nicole would do her thing and everyone on the team would do their thing. We have been taking them for weeks, so are pretty confident in them. I knew if Nicole made a few saves, nothing would stop us.”

DiPasquale did do here job. She made three amazing saves to win the game for her team. She almost made three straight, but the third shot she defended, hit her on both hands, but the velocity carried the ball into the net. She bounced back quickly and shut down Messiah on the next kick.

“It’s all about composure,” DiPasquale said. “Before I came up I had to calm myself down. I took a few deep breaths. I knew I just had to trust my instincts and go with my gut.”

Her instincts served her well. Her teammates helped her out, too scoring four straight penalty kicks, ruining Ewing’s day. Among the penalty kick scores was midfielder Haley Bodden. Bodden had not played at all in the game, yet came off the bench to score the winning goal for her team.

After Bodden scored her kick, she turned to her teammates and jumped up and down with sheer happiness. They all rushed to her in celebration. They had won another one, maintaining their perfect season.

“Nicole has been exceptional all year,” head coach Joe Russo said. “I thought she was magnificent with those PK’s. I thought the kids that took the PK’s were assertive, confident. I thought they did very well. For Haley to sit here for 110 minutes and gets up and knocks it in is just special. It feels good.”

The Lions will move on to their 13th Elite Four appearance. Under Russo, the Lions have made 28 straight NCAA tournament appearances. The Lions will face the University of Chicago next. Chicago was No.1 in the country until they suffered a loss just before the NCAA tournament. The game will be played in Greensboro, North Carolina on Dec. 1st, the time has not yet been announced.

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