Kutztown’s rally stuns WCU
EAST BRADFORD >> Up by two goals and going against an opponent it beat comfortably during the regular season, the unbeaten West Chester women’s soccer team … got comfortable on Friday. And that is never advisable in the NCAA Division II Tournament, especially in the Atlantic Regional Final.
After allowing just seven goals in the first 20 contests this season, the Golden Rams had several defensive breakdowns, surrendered three in a 16-minute stretch, and it was enough to give visiting Kutztown a stunning 3-2 triumph over WCU at Rockwell Field.
“This is up there with the biggest disappointments in my coaching career,” said West Chester’s 10-year head coach, Betty Ann Kempf Townsley.
“It was a lack of concentration and focus. We were too complacent with a two-goal lead, feeling
comfortable, and you can’t do that. You can never feel comfortable with a twogoal lead.”
The top-seed in the region, WCU’s season ends with a 19-1-1 mark. The Golden Bears (19-4 overall) advance to Sunday’s NCAA Quarterfinal clash against Bridgeport (Conn.), to be held at Rockwell Field at noon. It was Kutztown’s first-ever regional crown.
“We’ve been fortunate to play in four conference finals, including this year, but we went 0-4,” said KU head coach Erik Burstein. “So to get that weight off our shoulder, hopefully this will lead to more championships.”
It was the end of the line for 11 West Chester seniors, including PSAC and Atlantic Region Player of the Year, Scarlett Walsh. The midfielder scored a goal in her final college appearance, and so did fellow senior Haley Mangiaruga. But for a team that notched 13 shutouts, and never allowed more than a single goal in any contest this fall, it wasn’t enough.
“It hurts a lot, and I hurt for them,” said Kempf Townsley, who was named the PSAC Coach of the Year for the second time. “I wanted so badly for this group of seniors to win this regional and move on. This is a solid team and a group that deserved to go far.”
Things looked good in the early going. Walsh headed in a pass from senior teammate Lexi Brown at the 16:50 mark for her team-best 10th goal of the season. And about 15 minutes later, Mangiaruga knocked a shot off the near post and in after taking a pass from freshman Julia Kirkpatrick to make it 2-0.
The turning point, however, came in the final three minutes of the first half, when Kutztown’s Emily Zwiercan dribbled through the defense and scored an assisted tally that went under the hands of WCU keeper, Alex Srolis.
“It sparked them. We let them get right back into the game,” Kempf Townsley said.
“West Chester is a tremendous program every year,” Burstein added. “They tend not to concede many goals, especially at home. So to go down 2-0, you feel like maybe it isn’t our day. But that first goal we got at the end of the half was critical. That gave us a lifeline.”
With momentum on their side, the Bears got the equalizer about 10 minutes into the second half on a rocket from just outside the box by Maddie Moh that slipped into the far post. And then, only eight minutes later, Kutztown’s Kristina Miller hit pay-dirt on what ended up the game-winner a goal off a corner kick by Kate Martin.
“You have to give credit to Kutztown,” Walsh said. “They played with a lot of heart. But we made too many mistakes.
“I’m disappointed in the result, but not in the girls. It’s upsetting, but I am still proud of my team.”
Thanks to eight from Walsh, the Rams had a 1310 advantage in shots, but only four of those wound up on goal. Kutztown finished with a 9-8 edge on corner kicks, which included the game-winner.
Despite one of the greatest regular seasons in West Chester athletics history, the Rams exit the 2016 campaign with two big postseason regrets: a loss to East Stroudsburg in the PSAC Tournament semifinal, and Friday’s out of character defensive breakdown versus Kutztown. And both came on the Rams home field.
“Saying that we went undefeated in the regular season is an accomplishment, but it didn’t end the way we wanted it to,” Walsh said.
“We went undefeated in the regular season, and we walk away without a PSAC trophy or a regional title,” Kempf Townsley added.
“But this is a special group of players. Love them to death -- they are just great kids.”