Posted at 11 a.m., Dec. 5, 2013

Heartbreaker

Michael R. Brown, Eastern Florida State College

Defensive nightmare:
Anytime Taylor Hockley had possession of the ball the defensive line had a job to do keeping up with her blinding speed and practiced control. Hockley scored more than 20 goals in the season, including seven game winners.

Women's soccer falls to No. 1 Iowa Western Community College

It was as close as it gets. At the National Junior College Athletic Association Division I championship tournament, the Laramie County Community College women’s soccer team had gone 110 minutes, including two overtime periods, in a semifinals game against the No. 1-ranked team in the nation, Iowa Western Community College, and the board still read 0–0.

It all came down to a penalty kick shootout, but after Iowa goalkeeper Kelsey East managed to wrap her arms around a rocket shot from Golden Eagles’ lead scorer Taylor Hockley, one could almost hear 19 hearts break from nearly 2,000 miles away in Melbourne, Fla.

“There were a couple of tears, but overall they held up really well and held their heads proudly,” said head coach Jim Gardner.

Upon arriving in Florida earlier in the week, the team started to prepare for the games.

After a little bit of well-deserved beach time, the team began a schedule of study, light drills and “plenty of stretching and massages,” Gardner said. He added the goal was to keep the team ready without letting the players become overwhelmed by the task ahead.

Several parents made the trip to Florida with the team including those of some of the overseas team members, coming from as far as Japan and England to watch their daughters take on the nation’s best.

So close yet so far at NJCAA semifinals

The Golden Eagles headed into the semifinals game after knocking out the returning national champions Paradise Valley Community College Nov. 20. That game was won in torrential rain—which set records for the Florida county, three inches falling during the game alone—in a shootout following double overtime with a score of 2–2. This was a sort of vindication for LCCC after having been knocked out of last year’s national championship tournament by PVCC.

The women of the Golden Eagles’ team had met with Iowa Western once before in the first game of the season. It was their first of only two losses in their 19–2–1 season and the first of a string of early-season games against teams ranked in the top 15 in the nation. Though this final game will be counted as a tie, having stayed 0–0 through regular- and overtime, the Iowa team would come to be the Golden Eagles’ first and final defeats of the year.

Throughout the game, the Reivers used their fast-attacking style to push consistently through the midfield to the LCCC side of the pitch, but the Golden Eagles’ back four proved difficult to pierce.

A huge part in stalling these attacks was keeper Jesse Bradley, who knew when to come out of the box to take charge of the ball and made several daring saves. Bradley had shut out 11 teams in the season leading up to this semifinal match, including nearly 80 saves not counting nearly 10 in the final game.

Major offensive weapons for the Golden Eagles included the high-scoring Hockley, who seemed to have been injured with 35 minutes left in regulation time but did not substitute out. Just minutes later, she was back in true form, continuing to outrun the midfielders and broke through the Iowa Western defense, making several shots on goal. Hockley took a number of hits throughout the game, often having to be knocked down to be stopped. Hockley had 20 goals and 79 shots on the season and would take the first and final shots on goal of this win-or-go-home semifinals match.

In the end, Gardner and the women of the LCCC soccer team came up against the top-ranked team in the country and shut them out during regular play, only being toppled by the skin of Iowa Western’s teeth in the final shootout.

“I wish there was a better word than proud,” Gardner said, “but I am very, very proud.”

The LCCC women’s soccer team has been to the national championship tournament six times since the program was started 11 years ago, and Gardner said he is always happy with a team that can take the season to that level, win or lose.

Gardner has begun working and scouting to prepare for making another run next year.


Previous tournament games

Redemption: Eagles avenge oust from last year's tournament with win over Pumas

Eagles blank Archers