Women’s Soccer: “We can call ourselves conference champions”
They had beaten Wilkes two weeks prior. This one, you could say, meant a little more.
For the first time in program history the DeSales University women’s soccer team is going to the NCAA Division III national tournament, thanks to their 2-1 win at home today over Wilkes University in the Freedom Conference championship game.
“I’m just so excited for the girls, they worked so hard this entire season,” first-year head coach Greg Ridout said. “And the great thing about this is we can call ourselves conference champions, but we also get one more week to play together in preparation for the national tournament.”
The Bulldogs took an early 1-0 lead off junior Rachel Shive’s turn-around shot in the box less than six minutes into the game. Sophomore Angelica Bertola then connected on a shot in the 54th minute to put DeSales up 2-0. It was Bertola’s second goal of the playoffs, enough to earn her tournament Most Valuable Player honors.
“It was definitely a relief. My coach just kept telling me, ‘It’s going to come, it’s going to come,’” said Bertola, who had two shots just nearly miss in the first half. “I just tried to remain calm, and my teammates were right there to help me.
“It meant a lot that [the alumni] came out and supported us, and to be the first team ever [to win the Freedom Conference] and share that with our alumni was great.”
The team will learn its opening round fate at 1 p.m. on Monday, when the NCAA announces matchups and game sites. The tournament will begin on Nov. 13.
“Our goal is to win, but our expectation is always to play well,” Ridout said. “I think there was already a really great team chemistry here and I think [our success] was just continuing on the process of getting them to play the way we want to play and just having that mindset that we can come out and do this.”
Volleyball: Second fiddle again
Meanwhile, DeSales volleyball has had to play second fiddle in the Freedom Conference to a nationally-ranked Eastern University team for several years now. They entered Saturday’s championship game hoping to enact a role reversal, but their effort wasn’t enough as the Eagles won, 3-0 (25-13, 25-22, 25-17)
It is the fifth straight season Eastern has won the conference title by defeating DeSales in the championship game.
Nursing an 8-6 lead in the first set, Eastern suddenly leapt ahead by scoring five unanswered points. The Bulldogs collected themselves and swapped points with Eastern back and forth to remain seven points away. This stretch included three kills from Gabby Savite’. But soon, with the Bulldogs still hanging in, down 19-13, the Eagles scored the final six points of the set. Mistakes were key: 11 of Eastern’s first-set points came from DeSales errors.
The second set was easily the closest, and the set in which the Bulldogs played their best volleyball. Two consecutive attack errors by Eastern’s Stephanie Elechko pushed DeSales to an early 7-5 lead. Wallitsch served DeSales’ first two aces of the match to help extend the score to 11-7, but Eastern fought back and kept DeSales’ advantage to three points or fewer for several minutes.
Eastern took their first lead in 22 points when a Savite’ error followed by Elechko’s seventh kill of the match put them up 16-15. The Bulldogs came right back thanks to three straight Eastern errors, and Savite’s eighth kill of the match made the score 20-17. But after taking a timeout, Eastern stormed back and scored eight of the final 10 points of the set. A Lauren Horst service ace, the team’s fifth of the match, won the final point of the set for the Eagles.
Eastern jumped out to an early 5-0 lead in the third set before DeSales got onto the board with another Savite’ kill. They clawed back to an 8-5 deficit until the Eagles blew the doors open again. They scored 10 of the match’s following 13 points, bolstered by two kills apiece from Alicia Weigel and Morgan Shemonski. DeSales couldn’t recover for the rest of the match.
Savite’ led the Bulldogs with 10 kills, and Julia DePuyt contributed seven of her own, but no one else recorded more than three. Wallitsch led the team with 17 assists and 13 digs, while Savite’ and Natalie Gray pitched in 10 digs apiece.
The Eagles’ triple threat of Elechko, Weigel and Shemonski combined for 26 of the team’s 35 kills. Elechko led with 10 and Weigel and Shemonski hit eight each. Rikki Schlager recorded all 34 of her team’s assists, and Rylie Haas led Eastern with 19 digs.
All told, DeSales recorded 39 errors while Eastern committed just 25. This included 28 attack errors for the Bulldogs to Eastern’s 15.
DeSales is still eligible to earn an NCAA tournament Pool C bid or an ECAC tournament bid. Either fate will be announced by the respective organization on Monday.