The Montclair State University women’s soccer team was waiting in anticipation and full-on anxiety to see if their name would make the bracket for the NCAA Division III Tournament.
The Champions room in the Red Hawk Annex was filled with the team, head coach Patrick Naughter standing nervously around the room and the coaching staff seeing if the work they put in the regular season would pay off.
And once a couple of familiar names showed up, including the football team’s homecoming opponent and the team that junior midfielder Aileen Cahill and freshman forward Kylie Prendergast scored hat tricks against, the big moment arrived.
Montclair State’s name came up with a star next to their name, meaning Christopher Newport University and John Jay College will face each other and the Red Hawks will face the University of Lynchburg on Saturday, Nov. 12 at 3:30 p.m. The room was filled with excited screams and cheering. The magical season is continuing.
Naughter, senior defender Jessica DeSarno and sophomore defender Emmi Denovellis gave their initial reactions on seeing the coveted bracket.
“I get chills just like you asking the question,” Naughter said. “For the past four or five years, it felt like we were right on the bubble. And there has been a lot of time on selection Monday where we have been optimistic and gotten our bubble burst, and that’s hard. I don’t know if it’s recency bias, and I hope it’s just logistics, but I feel this group really deserved it.”
DeSarno described the details of the moment when she found out.
“It was amazing,” DeSarno said. “Especially being here for four years and never having that experience of making the tournament before. And we haven’t made it since . So right as I saw the asterisk and the ‘Mont,’ I stood up and started screaming and jumping on the table.”
Denovellis also stated how she felt.
“I was pretty confident [Montclair State would make the tournament],” Denovellis said. “I feel like having all of those out-of-conference games and being undefeated in those games definitely helped us because we did have a tough out-of-conference schedule. That really gave us the at-large bid and celebrating it together was awesome.”
The day after the team found out their fate, the team went right back out to Pittser Field to practice for the program’s third-ever matchup versus the University of Lynchburg. Even with the unfamiliarity of the team compared to the usual conference rivals, Naughter has noticed some similarities with the team that is a seven-hour drive from Normal Avenue.
“There are things that Lynchburg does like they play in a 3-5-2 [zone],” Naughter said. “[A] couple of teams in our conference play in that same zone, and we have seen a couple of teams outside our conference who play that as well, so that’s something that tactically won’t be a huge learning curve.”
Since the Red Hawks are hosting, the game will be at Pittser Field once again, so the home energy at Montclair State will be alive, and for DeSarno, it will be a great moment.
“It’s so special,” DeSarno said. “Being able to host the NCAA tournament. When the men’s team got to do it last year, it was so awesome to be a part of the crowd. And now that we get to have that experience as players is so exciting.”
To Denovellis, there is one way that the Red Hawks can go all the way in this tournament.
“Just keeping up our team chemistry,” Denovellis said. “I think our team chemistry off the field is such a big part of this team this year. So just playing together and this being our upperclassmen’s last year, we want to play big for them.”
Naughter is excited about the opportunity and speaks about the convenience of playing at home.
“We’re fired up,” Naughter said. “We feel very fortunate that, think about it this way, our families don’t have to drive seven and a half hours to come watch us play. And that means a lot to this group. And they get a little bit of a jolt from trying to get the trumpets going.”
Only a few more days separate the anticipation of something great for the Red Hawks and the 90 minutes of stellar soccer that will take place. Time will tell if the Cinderella story will continue beyond Saturday.