Three months ago, the season had finally arrived for The Rock women’s soccer team, a team with high expectations for themselves and from others. Then six minutes into the season, The Rock was down 1-0 to Walsh University, a score that would hold up and handed The Rock their first loss of the season. The next time The Rock would drop a game at home however, was in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
The Rock entered the season as the favorites in the PSAC West, but the season started for The Rock well before a whistle was blown. The whole team (including the incoming freshmen) took a trip to Costa Rica, which Coach Jessica Griggs believes improved the chemistry of the team before they even stepped on the field together.
“I swear by [the trip to Costa Rica], I think it does so much for teams. The girls, especially bringing the freshman class, got to know each other before we got to campus and they were able to have a good chemistry all season long because there wasn’t as much stress during preseason and also they came back with a sense of gratitude that I think did a lot for this season,” Griggs said.
This was the first time Coach Griggs has done this and the result was arguably the best team in program history. After the loss in the season opener, The Rock won seven straight games and outscored opponents 22-4 over that span. The Rock’s first PSAC loss came at Edinboro when the Fighting Scots downed The Rock 2-1 in overtime. The Fighting Scots proved to be The Rock’s toughest matchup this season and very nearly walked away with the PSAC West crown.
The toughest matchup between Slippery Rock and Edinboro came in the final stages of the season, and The Rock had the opportunity to seal the PSAC West with a win. Edinboro took a 2-0 lead in the first half and it wasn’t until the 70th minute that The Rock scored their first goal. The goal though, came off of a penalty shot from Georgia Nagucki after an intentional handball from an Edinboro defender kept the ball out of the net.
The handball was a costly mistake that resulted in a red card for the Fighting Scots and The Rock playing a man up for the final 20 minutes of the game. Sophomore Jordyn Minda netted the equalizer just a little over a minute later. With a minute left in regulation Tyler Spence, who Coach Griggs calls “the ultimate leader,” scored the game-winning goal on her senior day in front of her family came all the way from Maine to see her play.
“This group of seniors has challenged me to be a better coach, and I think it’s crazy to think about the development of that class. Two of them, Madison Johnson and Kaitlyn Barackman, were essentially walk-ons and look at the success they’ve had,” Griggs said. “Madison Johnson is getting all of these awards, Kaitlyn Barackman has broken out of her shell and been a really really consistently important player for us and then on top of that she’s a captain and a leader, then Miranda has always been a really solid kid for us, and then Spence to me is the ultimate leader and captain.”
The senior class was the first that Coach Griggs and her staff recruited, and the class was extremely solid. Johnson earned All-PSAC honors three times, including first-team honors this season, and was also named PSAC West Defensive Athlete of the year. Miranda Gallucci suffered a grueling injury that lasted 18 months, but was able to battle back and became amainstay in the lineup as she started every game junior and senior year. Spence and Barackman were huge for the team both on the field and off, and fittingly both were captains.
Three sophomores in particular had record-breaking years: Rachel Edge, Emma Yoder, and Jordyn Minda. Edge was named to the All-PSAC first team after scoring 15 goals and talling nine assists. She led the entire PSAC in points with 39 this season and she was also named PSAC West Athlete of year. Minda built off her spectacular freshman season with an even stronger performance, she earned her second All-PSAC first team and D2CCA All-Atlantic Region honors. Yoder bounced back from a knee injury and earned countless honors, including PSAC tournament MVP and All-PSAC West second team honors. The trio of sophomores played in a pivotal part in what could be seen as The Rock’s revenge tour.
“I think it absolutely [made it sweeter] winning the PSAC going through IUP, East Stroudsburg and Edinboro. I think the East Stroudsburg one is more of a thorn in the side for me, so I didn’t make it a big deal for the girls because it’s not about me,” Griggs said. “But the fact that IUP and Edinboro both beat us this year and those were our only PSAC losses heading into the tournament, and the fact that East Stroudsburg has for the majority of the girls’ careers been a little bit of a thorn in their side too, made it a little bit sweeter to finish it out that way.”
Slippery Rock earned the right to host the rest of the tournament after they beat IUP in the first round of the PSAC tournament 2-1, a game that was played in the snow and saw junior Sofia Harrison score a goal and record an assist to freshman Kayla Swope. The Rock and Coach Griggs were finally able to get past East Stroudsburg, when Madison Johnson scored the winning goal in overtime to send The Rock to the PSAC championship, where they faced Edinboro.
The Fighting Scots had an amazing season that came to an end after The Rock sealed their first PSAC championship under Coach Griggs with a 2-1 victory. Swope scored the winning goal in the PSAC championship, and had an extremely successful freshman campaign. Ultimately Swope was not named PSAC West freshman of the year and Coach Griggs was not not named PSAC West Coach of the year.
“The coach of the year stuff doesn’t matter to me, it’s not on my radar. We had the PSAC West athlete and defensive athlete of the year. And truly I think if anyone got snubbed, It was Kayla Swope or even Brooke Riefenstahl [for freshman of the year],” Griggs said. “Gary [Kagiavas, head coach of Edinboro] did an incredible job with his program, I voted for him for coach of the year and he absolutely deserved it.”
Both Swope and Riefenstahl earned All-PSAC honors, with Swope making the second team and Riefenstahl making the first. Overall, The Rock had seven players named to the All-PSAC teams, with four on the first team (Johnson, Riefenstahl, Edge, and Minda) and three on the second team (Shannon McIntyre, Swope, and Yoder).
The Rock’s season would end at home at the hands of West Chester in a 4-2 loss in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Swope also scored a goal in the NCAA tournament to go along with her two game-winning goals in the PSAC tournament. The Rock ended the season with an 18-4 record, which is the most wins in a single-season in program history. Now the focus is on improving for next season.
“We just want to continue to improve on some of the things we noticed, but the spring is awesome because it gets more people a little more attention, especially our freshman class. I’m really excited about them. It’s really hard to come in immediately and make an impact, it’s really cool that Kayla and Brooke were able to, but I’m really excited about kids like Julia Mascaro and Ashley Rea and rest of that class, I think that they’ll be incredible,” Griggs said.