Women's soccer's run ends in national quarterfinal

Lynchburg soccer lines up for the national anthem

Newport News, Va. -- University of Lynchburg's women's soccer team dropped a hard-fought 1-0 match Saturday evening to eighth-ranked Christopher Newport in the quarterfinal round of the NCAA Division III tournament.

The Captains' Riley Cook broke the scoreless tie in the 82nd minute, finishing a close-range shot in the box.

The defeat put an end to No. 17 Lynchburg's 14-match unbeaten streak.

"When you get down to the final eight teams," Lynchburg head coach Dr. Todd Olsen said afterward, "you're just going to get a battle."

Lynchburg seized the momentum in the early going after stymying an early CNU attack. Senior goalkeeper Delia LoSapio (Raleigh, N.C.) made the first of her five saves in the first minute of the match, and Lynchburg's defense blocked a couple Captains shots to keep it scoreless in the early going.

The Hornets countered with sustained pressure for most of the first half. Shortly after a 20th-minute penalty kick, senior forward Caitlin Mertens (Succasunna, N.J.) forced Captains keeper Haley Eiser to make the first of her 11 saves, and senior midfielder Kennedy Jakubek (Leesburg, Va.) hit the post just seconds later.

In the following minutes, Eiser saved shots by Mertens and Jakubek again as the Hornets out-shot their hosts, 10-7, in the half.

After the break, it was Lynchburg with the early chances. The Hornets took five of the first seven shots of the period, forcing Eiser to make saves on looks by senior forward Hannah Olds (Wilmington, N.C.) and junior midfielder Emily Sanchez (Orangeburg, N.Y.).

But in the 58th minute, the Captains took control with a relentless attack. LoSapio made three saves in the next nine minutes to keep CNU off the board, and Lynchburg had fleeting opportunities on counterattacks, but the ball lived on the Hornets' side of the field.

In the 82nd, LoSapio dove for a ball just outside the left post, but CNU midfielder Gabby Gillis got a foot on it first, putting just enough juice on the ball to squeak it to Cook, who finished from five yards away.

The Captains held on for the final 8 minutes and secured the victory.

"It's going to come down to luck sometimes," Olsen said of the even match. "You create your own luck, though, and they did a fantastic job in that last 15, 20 minutes."

Despite the heartbreak Saturday, Olsen wasn't willing to let defeat mar his pride in a team that, he admitted, exceeded his preseason expectations.

"If you'd have asked me, 'Where do you think you're going to end up?,' I'm not sure that I would have said we were a final eight team," he said, thinking back to season's start in August.

"It was a special team, and they just played for each other. And truly it was a family."

It will be especially challenging, the coach continued, to lose a talented, 11-member senior class.

"The great loss tonight isn't that we're not going to the final four and that we lost this game," the coach said. "That's not even remotely of interest to me. The great loss is that I'm going to lose this group of special players, and it's going to be really hard to get a team like this again."

That significance certainly shows in the program record book, too.

Mertens, the Old Dominion Athletic Conference's player of the year, finished her senior campaign with 29 goals, a mark that ranks second in Lynchburg's single-season history. She scored in 22 of the team's 26 matches in 2018 and finishes her career ranked in the program's top five in goals (63) and points (147).

Jakubek's 15 assists rank fourth in Lynchburg's single-season leaderboard.

The Hornets finish the season with a 20-3-3 record, the ninth Lynchburg team to reach the 20-win plateau, and reached the national quarterfinals for the first time since 2014. The group won the program's 16th ODAC title and reached the NCAA tournament for the 19th time in program history, including each of the past 12 seasons.

--LYN--

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