The Slippery Rock women’s soccer team claimed the 2012 Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Championship on Sunday with a convincing shut-out defeat against 16th-ranked California University (Pa.) 3-0 at the Philipsburg Sports Complex.
“As the season went on, we overcame lots of challenges and became strong as a team,” head coach Noreen Herlihy said. “We knew we were playing well. We felt we were on the rise, we knew it. [The coaches] just kept telling [the players] to believe. We had absolute confidence and Sunday was the epitome of all their hard work.”
The title is the third in the program’s history and first since 2005, where the Rock are 3-1 in conference championship games.
“We have worked so hard as a team this season,” senior captain Emer Flatley said. “We had some ups and downs, but we stuck it out together and I guess hard work paid off in the end. It was such an amazing feeling. Four years later, and myself and the other seniors finally have our PSAC trophy we wanted.”
Sophomore midfielder Lucy Hannon received the Most Valuable Player award at the tournament after scoring two goals and assisting the game-winner in the tourney final and picking up two assists in their semifinal victory over East Stroudsburg
Slippery Rock, who advanced to 13-5-2 overall, are the first team to beat the Vulcans at their new complex, where they had 24 straight home wins dating back to last season.
“Everyone gave it their all and we believed in ourselves when we got in the playoffs,” Hannon said. “We knew we just needed to put our minds to it and put in tackles that were there to be won, work for each other and as a team. Nothing is better than winning a PSAC. It’s an unreal feeling.”
Senior Shelby Ward picked up the first goal for the Rock. Hannon added two late goals and freshmen Caitlin Conner and Allison Harbart each picked up assists to round out the score sheet in Sunday’s title game.
Junior goalkeeper Dana O’Neil earned her ninth shutout of the year with five recorded saves. Junior defender Lauren Impey was also credited with a save in the first half to maintain the clean sheet.
Slippery Rock outshot their opponents 18-15 and had a 6-3 advantage in corner kicks. Each team recorded six shots on goal.
“Our success on Sunday was all down to the heart and belief that this team has to go on and win!” Flatley said. “We wanted it so badly and worked together brilliantly all the way until the final whistle.”
The first half was a back and forth battle with both teams getting chances to take the lead. When the halftime whistle sounded, the teams went to the locker rooms scoreless with the Rock posting a 6-5 edge in total shots.
Ward pulled through in the 63rd minute with what would become the game winner when she received the ball all alone in front of the goal off of Harbart’s pass from the end line.
Hannon banged home the Rock’s second notch after Conner stole the ball and sent it up the field to her.
The Green and White added the insurance mark in the 82nd minute when Hannon got loose on a breakaway, stuffing it into the back of the net and securing the PSAC title.
Cal U couldn’t seem to put anything together toward the tail end of the match as the Rock defense played rock-solid to secure the shutout.
“Our defense just stuck to our tasks which let the offense go and do what they do best,” Flatley said. “But overall it was a great team defense performance. I’m so proud of this team and we finally got what we deserved!”
Slippery Rock, who came into the playoffs as the seventh seed in the PSAC, stunned the No. 2 team (West Chester) and the No. 1 team (California), while also adding a dominant win against No. 6 seed (East Stroudsburg) in a four day stretch to claim the championship.
“We were underdogs coming into every game and we loved the challenge,” junior defender Stephanie Buckenheimer said. “We came together and we fired on all cylinders this weekend. We were finally playing well.”
On Saturday, the Rock knocked off East Stroudsburg with a dominant 3-0 shut-out in the semifinals.
Ward, Connor, and Impey all tallied a goal for Slippery Rock, while Hannon recorded two assists and sophomore forward Nicole Krueger picked up an assist.
The Rock was completely forebearing from the get go of Saturday’s match finishing the game with a 25-9 advantage in total shots, 9-8 on goal, and 6-2 in corner kicks.
O’Neill grabbed the shutout with eight saves.
Ward was forceful Saturday creating chances all game. She rattled the post twice, was pulled down inside the box and was constantly pulling ESU’s goalie off her line.
The game opened up in the 24th minute when Impey drilled a shot into the lower left corner of the goal to take the 1-0 lead for the Green and White.
The teams went into the half with the Rock up 1-0 and posting a 10-3 advantage in shots and a 4-1 edge in corner kicks.
It wasn’t until the 82nd minute that Slippery Rock would put the game out of reach, adding the second goal when Ward dribbled around the goalie and tapped the ball into the empty net off of Hannon’s assist.
The Rock added the final goal in the 89th minute when Krueger found Conner alone in front of goal to make it 3-0.
To make it to the semifinals, the Green and White had to face the Atlantic Region’s top seed West Chester, which they handily defeated 2-1 on Thursday.
Slippery Rock’s defense played rock solid only allowing one scoring chance the entire game against the Golden Rams, which came in the 90th minute as time was expiring.
Ward and Connor both picked up goals and Buckenheimer grabbed an assist.
O’Neill earned the win in goal for the Rock posting three saves.
The Rock finished the game with a 5-4 advantage in shots on goal, but West Chester managed a 3-2 edge in corner kicks.
The Rock’s 13 wins gives them their 17th consecutive winning season with 10 or more victories, the eighth-best streak in Division II history.
Slippery Rock is outscoring opponents 40-17 and outshooting the opposition 250-172.
Hannon leads the way with eight goals and eight assists, followed by Ward with eight goals and three assists.
Conner has five goals and one assist, while Impey has four goals and three assists, and Buckenheimer has three goals and four assists to cap the top scorers.
“This championship came from a Rock solid defense,” Hannon said, “and we wouldn’t be able to score these goals without the defense starting back at Deo [O’Neil] in goal all the way to attacking midfielders.”
O’Neill is 12-5-2 with eight shutouts in goal. She has allowed 17 goals for a 0.88 goals against average and made 66 saves for a .795 save percentage.
“We also have to thank the coaches Noreen, Casey, Ali and Lisa,” Hannon said. They have always believed in us as a team and our ability to go all the way.”
Herlihy is in her 18th season heading up the Slippery Rock program. She has led the team to 17 consecutive winning seasons with 10 or more wins and owns a career record of 223-102-26. The 17 consecutive winning seasons rank eighth all-time in Division II history.
The Rock were awarded the No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament and are set to face off against Edinboro in first-round action Friday at 2 p.m. at the Philipsburg Sports Complex.