Northwest Missouri did everything it could to keep the ball away from the MIAA’s Offensive Player of the Year on Friday afternoon.
The rest of the Hornets, however, proved themselves worthy of the challenge.
The Emporia State women’s soccer team stumbled out of the gate but rallied for a 3-2, double-overtime thriller at the ESU Pitch, winning the opening round of the MIAA Tournament.
It was an extremely different game than when the two teams faced earlier this season in a 4-0 ESU victory.
“They’re a much-improved team — we knew that,” ESU Head Coach Bryan Sailer said. “One game doesn’t dictate another. We knew it was going to be a challenge. We didn’t expect to come out so flat ... sometimes it takes a butt-kicking to get into it. Unfortunately for us, today it did and we turned it around the second half, had the momentum there and it carried through to overtime.
“They ... gave us all we could handle.”
After the Hornets’ first potential goal was stricken off the board due to an offsides call, it was the Bearcats who took command in the first half, getting their first goal late in the 22nd minute. NWMSU added to its total 11 minutes later when a lunging deflection by ESU keeper Jillian Patton bounced to the Bearcats’ Taylor Wolfe, who had an open look at the unattended goal.
That sent the Hornet into the halftime huddle with a 2-0 deficit.
“It was just one of those things we just had to make sure everyone was on the same page,” said senior forward Kennedy Hoffman. “I saw a lot of people hanging their heads a little bit. It’s hard when you’ve dug yourself into a hole like that. It’s just staying positive, telling everyone we’re not done yet. We have 45 minutes (left). We’ve scored multiple goals in 45 minutes before. Come out there, get one and we’ll get another.”
That’s what ESU did.
Hoffman scored on a header just two-plus minutes into the second half. Six minutes later, it was freshman Hannah Woolery who made good on a shot from 20 yards out to knot the score at two.
From there, it became a brand new ballgame.
“We were brutally honest with ourselves and realized we were not playing to our potential,” Woolery said of the halftime discussion.
ESU looked like a different team in the second half, but couldn’t find the net again in regulation, though ESU outshot the Bearcats 10-3 and had seven corner kicks.
It just a few seconds into the second overtime period when freshman Mackenzie Dimarco, whom was tightly played by the Bearcat defense all day, was tackled near midfield for a Bearcat foul. Freshman Joanie Westcoat set up the free kick and lofted the ball towards the goal, where a dozen players set up for the play. NWMSU keeper Alexis Serna Castillo rushed out to attempt to snag the ball, but Woolery, the sole Hornet between she and the ball, clipped it with her head, deflecting it over her grasp and into the net to end the game.
Woolery leads ESU in assists on the year, but doubled her season’s goal output less than an hour on Friday afternoon.
“She’s been huge,” Sailer said. “A very good, technical, attacking-minded midfielder that can shoot. She’s a good ball-winner, and she can distribute. She’s a threat from outside ... and gives us a dynamic piece in the midfield, so she’s been big all year. Dimarco gets the headlines because she gets most of the goals but Hannah’s been great. “A lot of our freshmen have.”
It was the Hornets’ freshman class who largely had the biggest impact in the game, though not in the typical fashion.
And freshman Mackenzie Dimarco? She who led the league in shots taken and goals scored? She still had a game-high six shots, but only one was on goal and she couldn’t get much in the way of freedom anywhere in the vicinity of the goal.
Yet she still had say in the final blow.
It was Dimarco who was brought down on a foul just a few seconds into the second overtime that gave ESU a free kick from just beyond midfield. Freshman Joanie Westcoat blasted it straight toward the box, where Woolery was at the top, with NWMSU keeper Alexis Serna Castillo attempting to reach up right behind her. The ball caught just enough of Woolery’s head on the ensuing leap that it deflected by the defenders into the goal and sending the Hornets into a celebratory frenzy.
“There was a lot on the line,” Hoffman said. “We’re not guaranteed another game so it was just coming in and playing hard. At halftime ... I was feeling a little bit anxious, I was a little nervous but everyone stepped up and we gave it our all.”
ESU will now face second-seeded Northeastern State on Friday after the RiverHawks defeated Newman, 4-0, on Friday night. The second round of play in the tournament will take place in Warrensburg, Mo.
“Sometimes you have to figure things out on the fly,” Sailer said. “I can’t call timeout. I’ll give my two cents, but it’s the players’ game. They’ve got to figure stuff out on the fly. What are we doing wrong? What are we doing right? We addressed some of those things at halftime. Our press got a lot better. We were able to keep the ball on their end a lot more in the second half. That was the difference in the half, was the pressure.”