At the end of the regular season, it seemed the Bridgewater State University women’s soccer team would not even make it to this stage. But the Lady Bears were not to be denied in the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference (MASCAC) Tournament.
Bridgewater State captured the MASCAC Tournament title for the first time since 2003 on Sunday, with a 3-1 win over Worcester State University. The win advances the team to the NCAA Tournament where they will face Middlebury College on Saturday at 11 a.m.
“It’s awesome, just a great feeling,” said Bridgewater State head coach Lou Verrochi. “These girls just weren’t going to be denied. This is just a culmination of a great season.”
Sophomore forward Mackenzie Hatfield received tournament Most Valuable Player honors, as she scored two goals and had two assists in the tournament.
“It means a lot, but I couldn’t have done it without any of my other teammates,” Hatfield said. “No one can do it by themselves.”
Hatfield was the difference for the Lady Bears in the title game against the Lancers. Hatfield notched a goal and an assist in the championship to give her nine goals and 10 assists on the season.
“Mackenzie is the absolute heart and soul of the team, and nobody deserved it more than her today,” said senior midfielder and captain Katie Nasuti. “She is a just a playmaker. And you know that when you give her the ball that she can do anything with it. We rely on her. She is a huge part of our team.”
Hatfield helped get the scoring started in the MASCAC title game, as she crossed the ball to senior forward Caley McClendon who knocked the ball past Worcester State’s goalkeeper for a 1-0 lead with just 22 seconds left in the first half.
Scoring just before halftime gave the Lady Bears momentum and they never looked back.
Just four minutes into the second half, Bridgewater State found the back of the net again, this time junior forward Erica Jonasson headed in a ball off of a cross from sophomore forward Olivia Planty, for her team-leading 16 goal of the season.
“The girls, they never let me stop working,” Jonasson said. “They keep building me up. And they are the reason why I work so hard, for them.”
Hatfield then went on to score one more goal for the Lady Bears off of a pass from Nasuti, and even though they conceded a goal late in the game, it was not enough to beat them.
“This is the third time out of four years being at the finals and this last year I told myself I was not losing, I was not going out my senior year losing again,” Nasuti said. “Everyone knew that. We knew it was our last chance to pull through and a get a championship win and we did.”
Against Westfield State, the Lady Bears went to double overtime deadlocked 2-2, but Jonasson came through with the heroics with a goal in the 105th minute to secure a 3-2 win and a spot in the MASCAC championship.
“She just has a nose for the goal,” Verrochi said. “She’s just tough, she’s aggressive, she never quits. She is just an outstanding player.”
The three game postseason winning streak didn’t seem possible at the end of the regular season when the Lady Bears crawled to the finish line.
Bridgewater State lost their final four games of the regular season, but Verrochi said injuries contributed more to the losing streak than overall play.
“We weren’t healthy, we had five starters out at one point in time and that sort of killed us,” Verrochi said. “We weren’t playing at full strength. When you have to dip down five starters that is going to create a problem with your lineup.”
The celebration of a MASCAC Tournament championship can’t last long though, as they now prepare for the NCAA Tournament.
Middlebury comes into the tournament ranked 13th in the country and earned an automatic bid after capturing the New England Small College Athletic Conference championship. The Panthers are led by senior forward Scarlett Kirk, who leads the team with 11 goals.
The pressure will be on the Lady Bears to come through with a win, but they plan to just take in the moment as they try to extend their season.
“It’s just bonus time now,” Jonasson said. “Now, we’re looking to really have fun and play some teams and really play for the experience right now. We basically got our victory, and now anything is just extra. We have nothing to lose.”
Greg Dudek is The Comment’s Editor-In-Chief. Follow him on Twitter at gdudek10 or email him at email@example.com.