West Chester advances on late goal
EAST BRADFORD >> With a series of recent postseason heartbreakers against East Stroudsburg fresh in everybody’s mind, the West Chester women’s soccer team exorcized a few demons on Sunday afternoon at Rockwell Field.
Sophomore defender Julia Kirkpatrick scored the gamewinner with about 12 minutes remaining and the Golden Rams held on to edge the visiting Warriors, 2-1, in the semifinals of the NCAA Division II Atlantic Regional. Just nine days earlier on the same field, ESU ousted WCU in the PSAC semifinals on penalty kicks. And a year ago, the Warriors knocked West Chester out of the PSAC’s and the NCAA’s in similarly gut-wrenching fashion.
“It is bittersweet. We wanted revenge so bad,” admitted senior defender Carly Henry, who also scored.
“We got that monkey off our back, so to speak,” added WCU head coach Betty Ann Kempf Townsley. “These two teams know each other very well and it can go either way every time we play.”
The top-ranked Rams (19-0-1 overall) will host No. 2 Kutztown (18-4) in the regional final on Friday at Rockwell Field. The Golden Bears edged Charleston (W. Va.) 1-0 in the other regional semifinal.
“With the regular season we had, our team deserves this opportunity. To play here with the spirit and energy of our fans, our team feeds off that,” Kempf Townsley said.
“We are so ready,” Henry added. “We are going to play with so much grit. We are determined and we are not going to let anybody knock us off, especially on our home field.”
Locked in a 1-1 deadlock with a potential overtime looming, Kirkpatrick headed a corner kick by teammate Nikki Caffey that glanced off the crossbar. But amid the confusion to corral the loose ball, Kirkpatrick battled for possession and blasted it into the back of the net. It was the first goal of her college career.
“It’s a special goal for me,” said Kirkpatrick, a native of Brick, N.J. “Tied 1-1, to score the winner was an amazing feeling.
“As soon I went up for that corner, I knew I had
to get that ball in. I headed it, it deflected off the post and I just had to get to the rebound.”
The PSAC regular season champs, West Chester then proceeded to kill off the remaining time on the clock in order to eliminate the defending regional and conference tournament champions. East Stroudsburg’s season ends with a 16-5-2 mark.
“At halftime I asked Nikki (Caffey) to take the corner kick because she can drive a ball to the far post,” Kempf Townsley explained. “And whenever Julia (Fitzpatrick) strikes a ball, it’s like a cannon.”
The Rams have made 14 consecutive appearances in the NCAAs, and a win on Friday would propel WCU to its second Regional crown in three years and earn another home game on Nov. 19th in the national quarterfinals. The Rams topped Kutztown 3-1 during the regular season.
“I am tremendously excited for this group,” Kempf Townsley said.
“I felt really good coming into (Sunday). I think the rest did us some good and they were really charged up and ready.”
It certainly showed as Kara Parvel bounced a shot off the post in the early going, and then a few minutes later Henry opened the scoring with a perfectly placed, looping cross field shot from 20 yards out that caught the upper far-side corner of the net over the outstretched arms of ESU’s star goaltender Jules Harris.
“Getting the first goal was good for our confidence,” Kempf Townsley said.
The fifth-seeded Warriors bounced back in the opening minutes of the second
“With the regular season we had, our team deserves this opportunity. To play here with the spirit and energy of our fans, our team feeds off that.” — WCU women’s soccer coach Betty Ann Kempf Townsley
half on a goal by Molly Vicari, off a crossing pass from teammate Liia Carpenter. West Chester came close to getting goal number two when senior Lexi Brown booted a shot off the far post midway through the second half, but it only set the stage for Kirkpatrick’s game-winner.
“You need some luck in these kinds of games, and we did have some of that,” Kempf Townsley said. “We hit the post twice, which was a bummer, but we earned our two goals.”
In all, Rams keeper Alex Srolis turned aside seven East Stroudsburg shots on goal. And the West Chester back line – which has allowed just seven goals all season -- limited the Warriors to 10 shots. In addition, both WCU goals were scored by defenders.
“I am so proud,” Henry said. “Being the only senior back there, it was awesome. Everyone contributes in so many ways.”