Lions salvage two goals in dying minutes to survive NEWMAC quarterfinals


Danny Kennedy

Emerson women’s soccer team celebrating following a late goal in the NEWMAC quarterfinals.

By Tyler Foy, Sports Editor

With less than a minute left in the second half of overtime, the women’s soccer team stared down a one-goal deficit and the end of the 2022 season. Still, after a lucky deflection and a perfectly played one-on-one, the Lions saved their season with two goals in 32 seconds, beating Wheaton College 3-2.

When the whistle sounded at Rotch Field on Nov. 2, 2021, it marked the end of the Lions’ season following a loss to Wheaton. 364 days later, the No. 3 Lions (10-2-5, 4-2-1) had a chance to enact their revenge on the No. 6 Wheaton (7-9-2, 4-5-1) and took it.

“It’s not fun to lose in the quarterfinals, but it was a lesson,” said senior captain Cali Bruce of the Lions’ 2021 defeat. “A big thing was they beat us last year, but this game is not about that. This game is about us.”

Graduate forward Caitlin Johnston didn’t play last season, but made a significant impact scoring two goals—including Tuesday night’s winner. 

“[Caitlin] has been a player who made an impact in every single game this season,” said Head Coach David Suvak. “She’s a very attack-minded player and has great vision to find penetrating passes, but she’s also super tenacious on defense.”

As the sun set and the lights shined on a cloudy night at Rotch, it was time for kick-off. The Lions pressured early, taking five shots in the opening 10 minutes. 

It didn’t take long for the Lions to break through; in the 19th minute senior midfielder Ainslee MacQuarrie dribbled up the left side of the pitch before swinging in a cross that Johnston poked past the Wheaton goalkeeper to give the Lions the lead.

Emerson continued to create high-percentage shots, but couldn’t get past Wheaton’s goalie, who made five saves in the first half. Suvak attributed the pressure on the ball to a change in tactics at the beginning of the season.

“We’ve been working on a style of soccer that is very possession-oriented with attacking-driven defending, using a technique called gegenpressing that all seemed to come together last evening,” Suvak said.

In the second half, the Lions picked up where they left off, keeping high possession and attempting numerous shots on goal, but the match would soon change in the 78th minute when Wheaton’s Sadie Recht floated the ball into the goal on a misplay into the box by the Lions’ defense to tie the game 1-1.

Regulation time eventually ran out and the game transitioned into overtime—in the NEWMAC, two 10-minute halves. Just four minutes into extra time, Wheaton took the lead off the boot of Lily Brown but Emerson kept a positive mindset heading into the second half of overtime.

“Obviously we’re one down and the way we were framing it was ‘They scored, so can we,’” Bruce said.

The Lions had two shots—one saved and one off-target—and the clock was ticking down. In the 110th minute, a deflected shot landed at the feet of junior midfielder Simone Barragan-Shaw, which she placed in the back of the net to equalize the score 2-2. 

As the team celebrated, they knew penalty kicks were pending, but Johnston had other ideas. 

“We’re high-fiving each other and I just look at Cali, I look at [senior defender] Bellamy [Suter] like ‘Oh my god, we need to get this,’ I don’t want it to be up in the air,” she said.

Johnston intercepted a poor pass from the Wheaton fullback, then dribbled forward and pressed into the box, facing a Wheaton goalie who, at this point, tallied 11 saves on the night.   Johnston kept her composure and slotted the ball into the back right corner, sending Rotch into a frenzy. Families cheered and the men’s soccer team—who was in attendance—raced to the other side of the field to celebrate. 

The announcer counted down the seconds, and when it was all said and done, the Lions were moving on.

Screaming ‘Let’s go!’ Johnston was in the middle of the huddle in one of the most special moments of her soccer career.

“It was the craziest thing ever,” she said. “Not only my whole team hugging each other at the goal but then seeing the men’s team just rush down near and just cheering for us. I’ve never felt more supported and loved on the field.”

Johnston and the team’s five seniors extended their collegiate careers at least one more game, but Johnston, who has battled injuries in the past—including an ACL tear that ended her senior season—knows what it’s like to play her last game.

“When I tore my ACL, I left that game and I knew this possibly could be my last game ever,” she said. “I’m just so grateful to have found a place on this team where I can play every game with girls that love it as much as I do.”

Bruce has been a captain for the past three years and the miracle win could be her final game at Rotch, but she was proud it was a thrilling victory.

“It means a lot to have gone through this journey with people that I’ve been with for four years,” Bruce said. “I’ve grown as a person and a soccer player and it’s a special team.”

When Suvak took over the reins of the women’s soccer team in 2010, there was much work to do. Aside from recruiting and piecing together this ‘special team’ with assistant coach Colin Connolly, this win marked the 100th he would share with the Lady Lions.

“It has me reflecting on games in the past,” Suvak said about the milestone. “So many players that have created this program and so many really great young women to just be involved in the success. It’s been great.”

The team surprised its coach with a Gatorade shower and balloons. But with their celebrations ending, the Lions look toward the semifinals on Thursday, when they’ll travel to face No. 2 Babson—a match-up they drew 0-0 earlier this season.

Suvak said defense will be a high priority, but Bruce added they’ll be entering the game making sure they wear their hearts on their sleeves.

“Our game plan is the same for every game and that is to play the best we can,” Bruce said. “To give everything on the field and leave with no regrets.”