Grace’s women’s soccer team came up just short in its pursuit of a national championship, falling in a penalty shootout to Lee University on Saturday.
The Lady Lancers played one of its most complete matches of the season against Lee to cap off a strong performance in the 2014 NCCAA National Championships.
The game was also the final one in the sterling senior class of Holly Bennett, Kaitlan Wiles and Kelsey Christner. They graduate as the winningest class in program history at 62-23-11 and are also the first class to reach four consecutive national tournaments.
Saturday night’s championship match had all the drama and excitement that was fitting for a title bout. Grace struck first in the first half off a majestic effort from Meredith Hollar. The sophomore forward created some space from a defender at the top of the penalty box. She then unleashed a vicious 22-yard rocket that crashed into the upper 90 of the net in the 21st minute.
Jordan Hairgrove nearly added Grace’s second goal with a shot from the 18-yard line that was saved. The teams entered halftime with Grace ahead 1-0.
A few minutes into the second half, Grace nearly scored again as a free kick from Heather Martin resulted in a scrum in the penalty box. But Grace was unable to pounce on the loose ball.
With 38 minutes remaining in the contest, play was halted due to a malfunction in one of the stadium’s light poles. The issue caused a 20-minute delay.
Lee finally broke onto the scoreboard in the 81st minute, tying the game 1-1. The final 10 minutes of action after Lee’s game-tying goal was full of back-and-forth play. With less than three minutes remaining, Mallory Rondeau got free on the right side of the penalty box. She squared a pass to Holly Bennett, but her shot went wide of goal.
The overtime periods were just as evenly played as regulation. Mimi Lozano fired the best shot for Grace in the first overtime period, weaving in from the left side of the field to take a shot on goal. The Flames nearly scored eight minutes into overtime with a cross in front of Grace’s goal, but Lee’s volley sailed high of the crossbar.
Grace had two golden chances to score in the second overtime session. But the Lady Lancers could not convert on either a corner kick or a free kick from the left side of the field.
After neither team could separate itself after 110 minutes, the match went into a penalty shootout. Lee won the coin toss to take the first kicks. Both teams made their first tries, but Lee took a 2-1 advantage after Grace’s second kick went wide. Abby Schue then came up with a big save, and Kaitlan Wiles’s next kick tied the score at 2-2.
Each team missed one more shot during their first five attempts, sending the game to sudden death. Mallory Rondeau and Meredith Matson each converted their shots in do-or-die scenarios, but Lee secured the national title with a save on Grace’s next kick.
Meghan Wiles, Carianne Sobey and Mallory Rondeau were named to the All-Tournament Team, and Abby Schue was named the tournament’s Outstanding Defensive Player.
Grace ended the season by tying the program record for most wins in a season with 17. They also advanced to a national championship game for the first time in team history.