They were in a place every team longs to occupy. All the Lions' time and hard work had finally payed off. The Emerson women's soccer team had reached the championship match of the Great Northeast Athletic Conference tournament, and the title was theirs for the taking, with only number one seed Emmanuel in its way.
The game had Emerson students excited, as a fan bus brought fans to Dilboy Field in Somerville to root on the team. The Lions and Saints had squared off once in the regular season at Rotch Field, resulting in a 1-1 draw. Coach Jason Tassinari said the team felt confident before the game that they could pull out a victory against the number one seed, but the underdogs fell, 4-1.
"We were not the better team today," Tassinari said after the game. "It was the first seed against the third seed and the higher seed won."
The Emerson squad came out attacking, but was unable to put anything in the back of the net. Two corner kicks and one free kick landed balls either across the goal line or in the box, but no player was there to do any further damage.
Even so, the Lions continued to apply pressure. Twenty-six minutes into the match, freshman midfielder Lindsay D'Andrea was fouled and was awarded a penalty kick, which was converted into a goal by freshman midfielder Lisa Viccione.
Six minutes later, Emerson had a chance to increase the lead when sophomore midfielder Kendra Davidson unleashed a shot 18 yards out, but it hit the cross-bar and went out of bounds. This would prove crucial, as Emmanuel scored its first goal five minutes later when a long shot went over the head of senior goalkeeper Katie Hartman, ending the half in a 1-1 tie. Tassinari said Emmanuel's goal signaled a change in momentum.
"The ability to not put in a second goal before they scored really hurt us," he said.
In the second half, it was all about Emmanuel. Two minutes in, Emmanuel midfielder and tournament Most Valuable Player Amber Di Nucci placed a ball across Emerson's goal line, but her teammate kicked it over the goal. Four minutes later, Emmanuel put another point on the board, scoring off a corner kick. They continued to apply pressure on the Emerson defense, causing Hartman to make a number of diving saves. In the 68th minute, Di Nucci flicked a header into the back of the net for an insurance goal, bringing the score to 3-1.
Senior captain and forward Mallory Moretti said the team stopped playing the "smart soccer" they practiced and started to lose control of the game.
"We kind of threw in the towel after the second goal, and after the third goal we were just trying to stop the bleeding," she said.
Emmanuel sealed the deal in the 80th minute, adding another goal via fast break. With two and half minutes left, Coach Tassinari subbed out seniors Moretti, forward Casey Whalen and defender Sara Hogan. While they walked off the field, they took with them their last chance to win a GNAC championship.
Moretti said that on the field, the difference came after Emmanuel scored the equalizer.
"Going into the second half tied, our heads were down as if we were losing," the broadcast journalism major said. "The energy dropped and they came out with more intensity and drilled it down our throats."
Emerson played very tentatively in the second half, producing only one dangerous attack when a D'Andrea header off a corner kick went wide.
"We were under constant pressure," Tassinari said. "Defensively, we were playing on our heels and we were not offensively dangerous."
After the game, Emerson accepted the 2007 GNAC runner up plaque, and three players were named to the All-Tournament team: Hogan, Davidson and freshman defender Hannah Cotier.
Moretti said the team represented Emerson well and it has been a great season.
"I'm proud of the team," she said.
Although the conference loss was disappointing, the team had to rebound quickly for their Wednesday night matchup against Brandeis University in the quarterfinal round of the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) New England Division III Tournament. The team's 3-0 loss to the number one seed ended their season.
Tassinari said regardless of the conference championship loss, the team has finished strongly and will continue to be a contender in the GNACs in future seasons.
"We still have a lot of soccer left in us, and we'll be okay," Tassinari said. "We gained a lot of valuable experience, especially in a big game and a hostile environment, and we'll be better for it in the long run."