Erie, PA – Playing in their first-ever AMCC championship game, the Franciscan women's soccer team dropped a hard-fought battle to top-seeded Penn St.-Behrend behind a late second-half goal as the Lions won the 2017 AMCC title, 3-2, Saturday afternoon.
"What a game," remarked head coach Clare McBane following the championship game thriller. "The girls really left it all on the field today."
Tied 2-2 for most of the second half, the Lions and Lady Barons were locked in an exciting defensive battle. After a pair of spectacular saves by junior Sarah Luebking, in the final 10 minutes, Olivia Belack found the game-winner as she picked up a through-ball in the far left side of the box and hit it into the back of the net above Luebking's out-stretched arms with 2:12 to play. Franciscan tried to get build its offense through the middle over the last two minutes but the Lions were able to disrupt the Lady Barons' efforts. The final horn sounded as the Lions claimed the conference crown with a 3-2 victory.
Trailing 2-1 at halftime, the Lady Barons never backed down and continued to push an aggressive offensive front. After a corner kick from Katie Kilian was cleared out of the box 8:18 into the second, the Lions tried to push the ball downfield but Franciscan forced a turnover just outside the 18-yard box. Junior Elizabeth Dawyot gained control of the ball outside the top right corner and played the ball around three defenders before burying the ball inside the fall left post to tie the game 2-2 with her fifth goal of the season.
"Honestly, we just did exactly what we have been trying to do every day," remarked Coach McBane when asked about their game plan going into the championship match. "We kept our focus and improved a little a bit every day. The team focused on our playing our game and not worrying about our opponent. The girls took this opportunity for exactly what it was and made it their own. We were really able to glorify the Lord on a higher level today.
"One thing we wanted to do differently today than what we did in the regular season against [Behrend] was to try to be an aggressive offensive force," continued Coach McBane. "In doing that, we naturally will have fewer people in the back and I am pleased with how our backline stepped up to the challenge today. They recognized the need for them to be better and their soccer IQ has grown tremendously throughout the season. Not only did they improve and move together as a unit, but they did that against at a high level against a top opponent."
Franciscan did find itself down 1-0 early in the first half as Jordan Oberlander tapped in a deflected save of her own shot to give the Lions a 1-0 lead just 4:28 into action. Franciscan would not let the lead last, however, as senior Megan Luiso headed home a corner kick by Kilian exactly a minute later to tie the game 1-1.
"One of the things we talked about is that before today is that we have been in a lot of games where the other team has scored first," commented Coach McBane. "Most importantly that it doesn't mean the game is over. Just as the season has gone on, we have seen their ability to stay mentally strong and have a maturity to keep battling, like they proved today.
After the two quick goals, the two offensives forced the opposing goalies to make tough saves to keep the game close. Franciscan had one of their best scoring chances in the 16th minute as Luiso's header was saved by Ania Goski but put back in play for senior Clare Kennedy to rip off a shot. Once again her shot was saved but not contained and Luiso was able to get another shot off with the keeper out of position. The Behrend backline stepped up and knocked the ball away to keep the game tied.
On the other end of the field, Luebking stepped up and made a great saved off a hard Belack shot in the 21st minute to do her part in stopped the high-powered Lion offense.
With 2:15 left in the first, Oberlander scored her second goal of the game to give Behrend a 2-1 lead going into the break, setting up second half dramatics from both teams.
"This was the second game in a row it was purely a team effort," complimented Coach McBane. "I am so unbelievably pleased with the entire team today. There wasn't a player on the team that didn't give 100% or even give above and beyond their normal effort."
Despite being out-shot 24-7, the Lady Barons put six shots on goal and were led by Luiso with three shots. Luebking made 10 saves on the day for Franciscan.
Despite the loss in the championship game, the Lady Barons' season may still continue. Franciscan awaits a possible bid to the ECAC tournament to continue their impressive 2017 season.
"Knowing that you have the potential for more games late in this season is both exciting and demanding," remarked Coach McBane. "We just made soccer program history and we are still hungry. We don't have to wait till next fall to continue to grow and build, we have the potential to play more now. And that is exciting."