For about two weeks, the Drexel women’s soccer team had perfected the art of late-game heroics. Unfortunately, the well ran dry in the most important situation of all, the Colonial Athletic Association Championships, as the Dragons fell to the University of North Carolina Wilmington 2-1 in their semifinal matchup.
After running up a nearly perfect 5-1 record in the month of October, finishing the regular season with three dramatic victories and clinching the first postseason berth in program history, the women came up just short in double overtime when they weren’t able to convert penalty kicks after a 20-minute first overtime.
The game began in a comparatively docile manner, with the first half consisting of just eight shots between the two teams, a relatively low number considering the high stakes of the game.
But in the second half, both sides came out with guns blazing. There were twice as many shots taken in the second half, with the Drexel women accounting for 11 of the 16 shots in the last 45 minutes of regulation. And yet, even with the increased offensive efforts of both sides, the teams were deadlocked at 0-0 with just 10 minutes remaining in regulation.
That all changed in the 82nd minute with a brilliant run from UNCW senior forward Stephanie Rose, who drove down the right side of the field, bringing two Drexel defenders with her. She took advantage of the centralized defense, crossing the ball into the goalie box to unattended freshman Maddie McCormick, who drove the ball into the lower-right corner for a 1-0 lead. With less than nine minutes remaining, things didn’t look promising for the Dragons.
However, they play all 90 minutes for a reason, and Drexel sophomore defender Melissa Chapman showed everyone why in the 87th minute. After a scrum in the goalie box, a failed clearing attempt from a UNCW defender left the ball rolling toward Chapman roughly 15 feet from the goal. Chapman one-timed the ball into the upper-left corner of the goal to tie the game at 1-1 with just under four minutes remaining in regulation.
Neither team added to the dramatic final 10 minutes of regulation after Chapman’s goal, so the game progressed into overtime. The Dragons used the momentum they had accrued with Chapman’s goal to continue to maintain pressure in the Seahawks’ side of the field. One UNCW shot aside, Drexel dominated the 20 overtime minutes, notching four shots and four fouls in the minimized period of play.
In the last five minutes of the overtime period, Drexel sophomore midfielder Megan Hammaker, one very familiar with late-game heroics this year, had a prime scoring chance from about 10 yards out on the left side of the goal. Hammaker registered a solid shot uninhibited by the Seahawks’ defenders, but UNCW goalkeeper Caitlin Hunter made an impressive diving save to keep the ball out of the goal and keep the game breathing until penalty kicks.
Heading into the decisive penalty-kick portion of the game, the Dragons hadn’t faced a PK situation all year, so there was no game evidence to base PK expectations on for the team; it was all show-and-tell, and it showed. Drexel’s first two penalty kicks hit the crossbar and the right post, respectively, and UNCW buried their first two to put the Dragons in a nearly insurmountable 0-2 hole after just the second round.
Even though Sam Greenfield was able to convert for Drexel in the third round, it ended up merely as a scoresheet formality. Rose buried a second shot for UNCW to win the round 4-1 and the match 2-1.
It was a tough pill to swallow for the Dragons after the most successful year in Drexel women’s soccer history, but they received compliments from UNCW head coach Paul Cairney after the game.
“When we scored that first goal late in the game, I felt that was going to be the deciding factor,” Cairney said after the win. “But give [Drexel] a heck a lot of credit; they battled back and tied it up.”
UNCW went on to lose to Hofstra 2-1 in double overtime in the CAA championship game.