The Utica College Women’s soccer team’s season came to an end last week after they fell to Russell Sage College in a very tight 2-1 battle. This is the second time in as many years that the Pioneers have fallen in the conference tournament championship game.
Utica’s path to the championship game wasn’t simple. The Pioneers were heading into this tournament with a record of 2-2-1 that the team accumulated during the shortened COVID-19 season. The record put them in the middle of the pack for the Empire 8 tournament but Utica’s positioning did not stop them from making a name for themselves in this year’s tournament.
Utica first squared off against Houghton College where regulation time was not enough, forcing penalty shots. In the game against Houghton, Junior Hillaria Hernandez led the team with 6 shots all while goalie Emily Hill was able to send away 13 shots to secure the victory.
The win against Houghton set the team up against the number one seeded Nazareth College, a team the Pioneers lost to by a score of 1-4 to earlier in the year. Utica pushed this game past regulation and into penalty kicks. Utica, very much like they did in the game against Houghton, won the penalty shots 4-2 and then had one day to prepare for the championship game.
The championship game was close, leaning in favor of Russell Sage. The Pioneers, however, battled hard throughout the entirety of the match but weren’t able to find a way to tie the game. The shots were spread out between the team with no player having more than two shots on target. For Hill, she was able to punch away 15 shots.
The amazing run ended as quickly as it started. Utica now has lost back-to-back championship games. Face value, the loss stings. The positive is the hope that this type of loss will spark a fire under some of the returning players. Kierra Caissey, a senior on the team, believes underclassmen on this team can take important lessons from this game and carry it over into next season.
“The most important lesson is to work hard,” Caissey said. “Running an extra mile, completing an extra lifting day, kicking a ball around, working on your weaknesses and giving you all during training sessions is where the championship team members are truly made.”
Senior Jacinta Kaminski also has high hopes for the group returning to the squad next year.
“Anything is possible if you are willing to work hard and never give up,” she said. “As long as you do not quit on yourself and each other you are going to connect with each other, and you are going to find success.”
Utica now gets prepared for the offseason ahead of them. The team next year will look different as nine players on the active roster are seniors. That allows for the new and returning players to build new chemistry that Caissey, all of the players and all of the fans hope will result in another spectacular conference tournament run.
“By embracing the hard work, taking pride in the process, and having fun while you do it with your teammates, the postseason will be the whipped cream and cherry on top,” Caissey said. “Everyone will need to be all in.”