The Sunshine State Conference (SSC)Tournament proved to be a hard-fought battle for the Women’s Soccer team. Despite its bitter conclusion, a chance at payback awaits the team tonight.
The Lady Tars lost in penalty kicks to Embry-Riddle University in the SSC Championship final, following a 1-1 draw during regulation. Luck had it that the teams will lock horns again for the first stage of the NCAA Tournament.
Last Sunday’s SSC game was electric; on the stands, a handful of visiting fans and a sizeable Rollins crowd created one of the most entertaining ambiences the Barker Family Stadium has seen in recent years.
“The game was a fantastic showing of competitive females playing their hearts out in front of an extremely excited crowd,” said Head Coach Alicia Schuck. “We executed the game plan very well and scored, and we’re up at half time, and they nicked a set piece, and it was even through much of the game.”
It was a fast-paced match from the start, with both teams launching forward at the sound of the whistle.
Given the pressure to win, both teams soon slipped into mistakes. One error from the Eagles’ keeper led to the opening goal of the game, as Kathryn O’Brien (‘20) took advantage of a spilled ball and put the Tars ahead with eight minutes on the clock. Embry-Riddle reacted immediately, aided by Rollins’ occasional lack of clarity in midfield.
The game became and remained physical. Each team collected three yellow cards, with the Eagles committing a harrowing 24 fouls.
Bailey Tran (‘23) served as one of the driving forces of the Rollins attack, whereas Hannah Menard (‘20) carried out tackles and clearances to prevent counter-attacks.
Rollins eventually utilized more long balls, which seemed to balance the field into half-time.
The game’s second half was one of the greatest showcases of soccer the SSC offered this season. Rollins came out with its foot on the throttle; however, it was Embry-Riddle that equalized on the hour mark when a corner shot headed into the near post.
Overtime saw both teams seeking the golden goal. However, a major blow to the Tars occurred as O’Brien picked up an injury and had to be taken out of the field on a golf cart.
It seems highly unlikely that we will see the SSC Player of the Year on the field again, but Schuck confirmed that O’Brien will sit next to her during the remaining games, coaching and supporting her teammates until the final whistle.
The unchanged scoreline meant the teams had to resolve to penalties. A heart-stopping drama unfolded as eight rounds of penalties took place and the lead changed hands twice.
In the end, the Embry-Riddle substitute keeper, who had not played a single minute the entire season, scored and cinched the first SSC tournament title in the history of the school’s program.
“Penalties can go either way, and we were on the wrong side of that outcome,” Schuck admitted.
Should Rollins defeat Embry-Riddle in the first bracket of the NCAA regionals, it will meet Lee University in the regional semifinals.
This would be the Tars’ chance to avenge last year’s regional exit against the Flames, when they conceded in overtime with four minutes left.
Schuck said, “Postseason play and NCAA soccer is what our goal has been all along. We are ready for the challenge and look forward to scouting our opponents and putting out the best possible performance in order to be successful and move through the rounds.”
The Tars are determined to win and believe it is time for payback.