The women’s soccer team made their presence known in their return to the NCAA tournament.
It was the first time playing in the NCAA tournament since 2016 for the Montclair State University women’s soccer team and although it didn’t last as long as it could have, the Red Hawks proved they are among the best in the country.
The weekend began with a 1-0 victory in a battle against the University of Lynchburg, who finished the season at 11-3-7 with one of the toughest schedules in all of Division III.
Coming into the matchup, the Hornets had only allowed two goals since Sept. 18 so it was set up to be an interesting matchup between an elite defensive side and a Montclair State team that has been fluid in their attack all season.
The game was about as evenly matched as it gets. Montclair State held a slim advantage in the shot department by taking 10 total with three on goal while Lynchburg attempted eight with three on target as well.
If there was any clear advantage between the two sides, it was that the Red Hawks were better on the ball and consistently showed more composure in pressure situations which allowed them to play on their terms, especially in the second half.
The Red Hawks weren’t ready for their season to end, according to sophomore defender Emmi DeNovellis, and their extra work on set pieces leading up to the game helped tremendously.
“I’m so proud of this team,” DeNovellis said. “We didn’t want our season to end so we just gave it our all in every bit. We practiced a lot of set pieces this week so that’s where I feel like we finished our best.”
And sure enough, in the 56th minute, DeNovellis served up a cross into the box off of a corner kick and found senior midfielder Kerri Driscoll who was there for the finish.
“So we run a play right there called fist and that’s my favorite play where everybody just lines up on the goal line,” DeNovellis said. “And I just saw [Driscoll] just jump back so my aim was for her since she’s a really tall target and I just put it right on her head. Her head’s like a cushion so she just put it right in.”
It was Driscoll’s second goal of the season and it was a massive one as it turned out to be the deciding factor in the opening round of the NCAA tournament for the Red Hawks.
The action picked up during the later stages of the second half with Lynchburg coming close to scoring in multiple instances. Their best chance came in the 73rd minute when Lynchburg junior midfielder Emily Santana intercepted a pass and quickly got into a one-on-one situation with senior goalkeeper Haley Martin but the shot was just wide.
With the win, No. 17 Montclair State was then slated to take on No. three ranked and defending national champions, Christopher Newport University, in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Facing the Captains meant going against one of the very best teams in the country currently and maybe ever. For the first time all season, the Red Hawks were the clear underdogs heading in.
It was a quick start for the Captains as they brought the pressure right away and put shots on target in the fifth and seventh minutes but Martin was able to corral them both. Senior forward Kimberly Campbell fired a shot from just outside the box in the 18th minute however, sophomore goalkeeper Jaya Daniel from Christopher Newport was there for the save.
Christopher Newport broke through for the first goal in the 23rd minute after a deflection by Montclair State freshman defender Ashley Defrancesco which bounced right to Christopher Newport freshman defender Kate Eissenberg who then slipped a pass to fifth-year forward Sarah Smith. Smith shot a curler that found its way to the back of the net, even with Martin getting her hands on it.
It was a goal that the Red Hawks hated to see and coach Patrick Naughter was not ecstatic about it.
“I thought we were a little unlucky on the first goal,” Naughter said. “It’s certainly one we want back.”
Just four minutes later, off of a corner kick, the Captains doubled their lead. Senior defender Sarah Rhiel sent the ball in and Eissenburg rose up and drove the ball past Martin toward the right side of the goal for another.
The second half was much better for Montclair State as the game did slow down and it was played mostly in the midfield. The Red Hawks continued to fight all the way until the very end but the Captains were ultimately too strong defensively for any real chances to be made.
Naughter gave credit to Christopher Newport and praised them as a whole.
“I thought it was a great game,” Naughter said. “Christopher Newport was excellent. So good going forward, excellent organization.”
It was a highly competitive and skillful showing for the Red Hawks as well. Although they lost, it very well could have been one of their better performances of the season, especially in terms of ball control and decision-making.
It was a performance that Naughter was extremely proud of.
“Couldn’t be more proud of our group,” Naughter said. “For the fight, they showed and the resilience and you know, not surprising because they have been doing it all year.”
Even with an unfortunate ending, the 2022 Montclair State women’s soccer team had a season for the ages by going 17-2-1, which marked the third most wins in program history.