For the first 70 minutes of the Emerson women's soccer team's game against the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, senior Alex Matthews watched her teammates from the sidelines, cheering them on as they fought in a scoreless battle on a frigid night at the Field at Rotch Playground.
With 20 minutes left in the game, the Lions suffered a blow when forward Lindsay D'Andrea, the team's second-leading scorer, went down after a nasty collision with UMass keeper Tanya Braga. The Lions had to call on their bench to help them pull out a win-but more importantly, it meant Matthews had the opportunity to enter a game on a Senior Night that was dedicated to her.
"It's hard when a top scoring player comes out of the game," said freshman marketing major Genna Opatut. "But when [Alex] comes in, we know she isn't going to let the team down-we trust her. Everyone steps up and takes a role in winning. We all have heart, and we're all in this together."
So, in front of an enormous crowd sporting banners and signs that read "Go Alex," the soon-to-be graduate walked onto the field, surrounded by teammates confident that Matthews would fill the void without missing a beat. On Senior Night, Matthews would be on the field for what turned out to be one of the Lions' most dramatic wins of the year.
"It was huge," said Matthews, a broadcast journalism major and iBeacon/i contributor. "We went into the game with a lot of energy. Everyone was really pumped up in the locker room-it was like my birthday but better. You don't get banners on your birthday."
Matthews made an impact when she came in, helping her team keep pace until the whistle blew at the end of regulation. She continued her strong play into overtime.
The tie was finally broken when defender Meaghan Foehl connected with a wide open Opatut, who finished the cross and ended the game.
"It felt absolutely incredible to put that goal in," Opatut said. "[Foehl] did all the work, I was just there to put it in. We work so well in the final third of the field. It's an amazing feeling to play with these girls."
The team's win was important not only for its record, but for the fact it was Senior Night, Head Coach Katelyn Haggerty Angotto said.
"It's really great to win this for her," she said. "Alex has such great heart, and she plays such a big role on this team. She's definitely a huge leader for us, and she clearly helped us in this game after Lindsay [D'Andrea] went out."
With the win, the tenth in their last 11 games, Emerson helped its cause in a battle for seeding in the Great Northeast Athletic Conference tournament. The Lions finished fifth in the league after a 2-1 loss to Albertus Magnus College on Oct. 25, and will travel to play St. Joseph's College in West Hartford, Conn., on Nov. 2 for the first round of the playoffs.
"You really couldn't have asked for a better ending to this game," said sophomore defender Brittany Jones, a political communication major. "On a night that was dedicated to Alex and the heart she's given to this team, it's only right that we play a game that shows how much this all means to us."
Matthews praised her teammates and the job they've done in her final season with Emerson.
"I'm really proud of my team and how they've pulled together at the end of the season," she said. "Just to be part of a team like this is awesome."