Emerson’s women’s soccer clinches NEWMAC championship with 1-0 win over Clark


Danny Kennedy

Head Coach David Suvak lifting the NEWMAC trophy

By Leo Kagan and Tyler Foy

As the scoreboard counted down at Rotch Field Saturday afternoon, senior midfielder Cali Bruce—along with her teammates—was focused on making sure the Emerson Lions’ one-goal lead would not be erased. But despite her attention narrowed in on defending until the end, she couldn’t help but think as time expired. 

“As it ticked down, all I could think was, ‘We did it,’” Bruce said. “We finally did it.”

The women’s soccer team clinched the NEWMAC Championship with a 1-0 victory over the Clark University Cougars, completing a historic run to the conference title—the first in program history. The playoffs began with a thrilling last-minute comeback against Wheaton College on Tuesday night and continued with a 3-2 win against no. 2-ranked Babson College on Thursday. 

Saturday’s NEWMAC postseason finale against the Cougars—who knocked off no. 1-ranked MIT to reach the finals—featured tight back-and-forth play through the middle of the field, but few scoring chances. Both teams took only five shots combined in the first half, just three of which were on target. Bruce said despite a slow offensive first half, the Lions didn’t want to press too much. 

“We’re a really possession-oriented team,” she said. “We didn’t want to change our style to how they play. [We were] making sure we did what we needed to do and know how to do well.”

Bruce added that keeping the ball on the wings and the ground was a key element to the Lions’ success shutting down Clark’s chances in the first half—particularly those from the Cougars’ midfielder Jamie Joseph. 

In the second half, the game began to open up, but even with increased offense, nobody could break the stalemate until 76 minutes into the game, when graduate student Caitlin Johnston ricocheted a ball off a Clark defender and into the back of the net. 

Johnston, who scored twice in the Lions’ comeback against Wheaton—including the game winner—tallied another game-winning goal on Saturday. She said she recognized the opportunity to end the game in regulation as soon as she got the ball. 

“I just wanted to stay calm,” she said. “The clock was ticking down and all I could think was, ‘I’m not doing overtime right now.’ I think it was just determination to get the ball in the back of the net by any means.”

Johnston struggled to produce offense through the regular season, but hit her stride in the playoffs. Head Coach David Suvak said he expected her to start producing. 

“I had very high expectations for her all season long,” he said. “She’s been a little snakebitten, but these last three games she’s really generated some dangerous attacks so it doesn’t surprise me.”

Bruce said Johnston—who joined the team after graduating from University of Idaho in the spring—was primed for success as the team entered the postseason. 

“When you come on to a new team, it’s hard to adjust,” Bruce said. “Towards the back half of [the season] she was regaining that confidence and coming into the tournament, it was clear she was going to step up.”

Johnston stepped up, giving her team the cushion it needed to close out a victory. Through the last 14 minutes of regulation, the Lions staved off four more Cougar shots in front of a raucous home crowd. When the clock read zeroes, students stormed the field in celebration, but Suvak was standing on the sidelines, soaking in the moment. 

“I reflected briefly about so many good players that I have coached in this program,” he said. “Without all those players and all those teams, this team would never be where they are.”

The historic tournament run was made even more special for Suvak as he recorded his 100th win to start the Lions’ trek to the NEWMAC championship. Athletic Director Pat Nicol said she wasn’t surprised by the milestone, citing his recruitment and people-management skills as key skills he possesses.

Photo: Danny Kennedy
A proud women’s soccer team running to celebrate with their team after a hard-fought Finals match.

“Dave wants to be the best coach he can be,” she said. “It’s about building the person. It’s about the growth of the individual through sport and he’s laid a foundation that is sustainable, that we’re going to be able to build on.”

Photo: Danny Kennedy
Fans rushed the field as the final seconds ticked down.

The NEWMAC Champions celebrated on the field, soaking Suvak with a Gatorade jug full of water and lifting their trophy in front of a still-strong crowd of Emerson fans. 

Emerson hasn’t typically fought for titles, but Nicol said the achievements of both the men’s and women’s soccer teams aided in garnering the institution more recognition.

Photo: Arthur Mansavage
Athletic Director Pat Nicol and Associate Dean Jim Hoppe presenting the NEWMAC Trophy.

“I feel that we really have solidified our place at Emerson as an athletic department,” she said. “Everybody has really taken great pride in what we’ve been able to do…It’s a credit to the village because it takes a village to get us there.”

But Suvak says Emerson’s journey isn’t over yet, as the team now has a bid to the NCAA tournament. 

“On Monday we’ll find out who our opponent is going to be,” he said. “We’ll tailor all the training sessions towards a Saturday match.”

Bruce said the team will prepare for the next round of the postseason, but first, they’ll take a moment to relax. 

“Step one is to recover,” she said. “This week has been a lot on our bodies with a game every other day. But after that, it’s the same mentality that we approach every game with, it’s just another game and you’ve got to go out and perform.”

Nicol said the tides have turned and expectations have risen in the last few years. To continue their growth, she mentioned the phrase, “success breeds success,” and said the Lions hope to do just that.

“Confidence only comes with a process,” Nicol said. “Each step is a learning process and we don’t go into a contest anymore, hoping to win, we go into a contest now expecting to win.”