After missing out on the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference playoffs, the women’s soccer team won the school’s first Eastern College Athletic Conference Women’s New England Soccer Championship this past weekend.
The Lions fell short of the NEWMAC tournament by three points, finishing ninth place in the conference. The team continued to practice after the regular season was finished, and applied to participate in the ECAC Championships. They were admitted to the tournament as the no. 7 seed, the second to last spot.
The Lions upset no. 2 Endicott College and no. 3 Elms College on their way to the finals, where they defeated no. 4 University of New England.
Emerson was down in the first half against both Endicott in the quarterfinals and UNE in the finals, but came back to tie it in the second half. When the games both went to penalty kicks, head coach David Suvak said that his team knew how to calm down before the most stressful moment of the contests.
“I had a group of players laughing right before they were going to do something that is pretty high pressure,” Suvak said. “It was a way for me to lighten them up a little bit. Anything can happen in PKs, anything. We’re just going to go do our best and support each other.”
Senior midfielder and captain Tayllar Righini praised the goaltending of junior Melanie Escobar, who made key saves in the Endicott and UNE games that led the team to victory.
“[Escobar] is a rock star. She’s unbelievable,” Righini, a communication sciences and disorders major, said. She made the most amazing save and I know how hard it is for goalies to make a save on a PK as it’s just a total guessing game, but she did it and she came through for us.”
Escobar was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
Righini said that she was proud of how resilient the Lions were throughout the tournament, specifically in the finals.
“The team word of the year was grit,” Righini said. “I think we really channeled that in this game to go down two to nothing and to not stop fighting until it was over.”
Righini admitted that it felt good to beat the higher seeded teams in the tournament, but said the rankings didn’t tell the whole story.
“We were going through the stats, and we realized that they were about the same level of play as us,” Righini said. “We looked at the teams that they had played, that we had also played, and they were really similar scores.”
Alexandra Dezenzo, a graduate student and center midfielder for the Lions, said that Suvak didn’t even let the team know what seed they were before the quarterfinals game.
“I think our coach strategically didn’t mention the standings, and I couldn’t find the bracket, so I didn’t know that we were ranked low,” Dezenzo, a communication disorders graduate student, said. “In the NEWMAC, the seedings are a lot more predictable, whereas in ECACs, the teams are all in the same echelon, because we’re all pretty evenly matched.”
Dezenzo said that the break between the Clark University game and the quarterfinals made it difficult for the team to keep up with the usual pace and intensity.
“I think it was more challenging to maintain, even in just that week, the same level of fitness and competitively play,” Dezenzo said. “After the first 20 minutes of the [Endicott] game, we settled back in after being off for a little while. We were slow to start, but it just took those 20 minutes and we were able to pick up right where we left off.”
Suvak said giving the team a second chance to succeed was just what they wanted.
“Our goal at the beginning of the year was to try to make the NEWMAC playoffs, and we fell short by one win,” Suvak said. “Having this opportunity to compete in the ECAC extended their season, and I think they’re all tremendously pleased with it.”
Righini said that while ending the year with a victory was good, it was better to be able to continue her final season at Emerson with a tournament run.
“ECACs is definitely the cherry on top. It was nice to go out on a win against Clark, but it didn’t feel right as the end of our season, because we really had so much left,” Righini said. “I’m really thankful that we got into the ECACs, that we kept pushing for more games. Especially as a senior, you always want another one.”
Righini scored the game-winning shootout goal in the match against UNE, the final match of her Emerson career.
“That’s pretty special that a senior captain gets to finish her playing career at Emerson on a game-winning shot, gets to win a championship, and celebrate like that,” Suvak said.
Righini said that going out on top with her first career championship win was just what she had hoped for.
“It was perfect,” Righini said. “I wouldn’t have wanted to end my soccer career any other way.”