Women’s soccer victorious in first-ever home ODAC final

After three early season losses, the women’s soccer team went 12 games with- out another loss, which culminated in an ODAC title and a ticket to the NCAA tournament

Caroline Blackmon

The final result, a 2-1 victory over Virginia Wesleyan in the ODAC championship on Nov. 6, does not tell the whole story of Washington and Lee’s women’s soccer team. It doesn’t tell of the endless grueling practices and strenuous games the team played throughout the season to get to the point where the Generals had the opportunity to not only host the ODAC finals for the first time, but also end a seven year ODAC title drought.

The tough competition, said Head Coach Neil Cunningham, the team faced against nonconference teams helped the team learn their strengths and weaknesses early in the season.

“We have improved our grit and determination and after a tough loss in our first conference game we started to just work a little harder for each other,” he said. “Since then we are undefeated.”

Cunningham also credited the team’s seniors, saying that they were just the leaders that the Generals needed to make history.

“Their focus, energy and passion for the program has inspired this team to reach their ultimate goal,” he said. “They are talented soccer players, amazing students and great people that have served as excellent role models for the program.”

Forward Tricia Jessee, ’17, said that knowing this was their class’s last chance to win ODACs gave them a lot more motivation to leave everything on the field during practices and games. This determination, among other things, led them to the win, she said.

“Winning ODACs was one of the best moments of my life,” Jessee said. “The feeling of all of our team’s hard work coming together to truly mean something was an amazing feeling.”

Midfielder Megan Engeland, ’19, who won the ODAC Player of the Year award, said that the eleven freshmen the team brought on this year has given them depth to get more people on the field.

Cunningham said that this depth helped him strategize throughout the season, and prepare for when the team played conference matches.

“[We were able to] give our squad experience early and rotate players so that we would have greater depth during the season,” he said. “We took each game at a time and improved each game.”

There were several points during the ODAC Championship game that the team said they will remember forever.

Jessee, for one, said she came into the game in the first half and scored W&L’s first goal within about 30 seconds of her being on the field.

“It was one of the most unreal moments of my life; even after I scored I thought I was dreaming,” she said.

Engeland said that the first goal was a defining moment because it showed how serious they were about winning this championship game, and that they were better than Virginia Wesleyan.

She also said that there was a serious moment when they thought Virginia Wesleyan was going to score a goal, but that Kristen Castle, ’20, stopped them.

“I think that really represented our team because she went all out and completely sacrificed herself to stop that shot,” Engeland said. “All season we’ve discussed the importance of being ‘all in’ and, in that moment, Castle was definitely all in.”

But, the moment that will sit in the minds of the whole team is the endless happiness the team felt while celebrating the ODAC win.

“The celebration at the end was something I will never forget,” Jessee said. “Every single person on the team was so happy to be there and it was so great to share this moment with twenty-six of my friends.”

Cunningham said that the ODAC title means so much to the whole team and that they could not have done it without the support from W&L.

“The atmosphere created by students, faculty, staff, alums and the Lexington community made it even more special,” he said. “It was our first title on home soil so it was very special indeed.”

The ODAC title gave the Generals an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, though the team lost in the first round to Hardin-Simmons.

According to Jessee and Cunningham, no one on the team had been to the NCAA tournament before.

“NCAA tournament play is completely different,” Cunningham said. “It is hard to prepare for because we know so little about our opponents.”

Overall, the team said they were happy to compete in NCAAs because it was a good experience for them. Engeland said that she was glad to have this experience and that she has learned a lot from it, and she is ready to bounce back next season.