Soccer, Sports

50th consecutive unbeaten match earns women’s soccer Patriot League championship

The Boston University women’s soccer team celebrates after winning the Patriot League championship over Lehigh University Sunday afternoon. MADISON EPPERSON/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

The final win of the Boston University women’s soccer Patriot League season mirrored its first: a 1-0 victory over Lehigh University.

When the Terriers (11-7-3, 7-0-2 Patriot League) first toppled Lehigh (8-12, 3-6 Patriot League), it had been only their second win of the season after picking up seven losses in their out-of-conference season.

This time, the top-seeded team left Nickerson Field with the Patriot League Championship trophy in-hand.

BU head coach Nancy Feldman cited her team’s character as a driving force in the conference season.

“This team has been about positivity and will,” Feldman said. “However long it was going to take, they were just going to keep sticking to it. They wouldn’t let frustration seep in, and that’s really a sign of a mature team. Ten seniors, it’s what you’d expect, but it’s not automatic.”

Feldman also commended the Mountain Hawks for their play.

Lehigh kept its spot in the tournament with its regular-season finale win against the College of Holy Cross and — in their first postseason win since 2010 — became the first team in Patriot League history to advance from the quarterfinals to the championship match.

Both teams averaged less than one goal allowed per game, predicting a defense-minded championship match.

While the Terriers fired off 12 shots during the first half, the Mountain Hawk backs forced their goalkeeper, Sam Miller, to make only three saves.

The first shot on goal of the game came in the 17th minute of play when senior defender Libby Closson sent an attempt sailing from just outside the box seconds after a blocked shot from senior midfielder Chelsea Churchill.

Within the next 10 minutes, Lehigh swung the momentum toward the other side of the field, making three shots, the final of which necessitated a save from sophomore goalkeeper Amanda Fay.

On the second of two corner kicks off sophomore forward Anna Heilferty, semi-final brace scorer and junior forward Shannon Keefe made another attempt on-net in the 37th minute.

The score remained 0-0 going into halftime.

“There was another good team on the field,” Feldman said. “The Patriot League is tough. Teams defend with a lot of discipline. There’s great organization, there’s great coaches, there’s committed athletes, and they’re hard to break through.”

While BU still led in shots in the second half, the differential narrowed to 8-6.

Fay took on two shots through the half — in the 71st minute, she held onto the ball through a tackle that earned the offending Mountain Hawk a yellow card.

Two minutes later, Miller faced a challenge of her own.

From a busy centerfield, junior midfielder Chloee Sagmoe passed the ball to right field for senior midfielder Kelly Harris.

As the Lehigh defense was spreading to cover her, Harris crossed the ball high in front of the net. A diving Heilferty, the Terriers’ top scorer, got her head on the pass. Miller dived right — but not far enough.

With the game winner in the net, Heilferty laid on the field, arms stretched skyward, as Fay raced to join the team as it piled on top of the eventual Patriot League Tournament MVP.

Along with the championship trophy, the win was BU’s ninth season shutout, its 50th straight home conference unbeaten match and Feldman’s 400th collegiate career win.

To get the championship match, the Terriers toppled the United States Military Academy 3-0, who had been one of two Patriot League teams to score on BU during the regular season.

“Postseason is completely different,” Feldman said. “Every team is 0-0. We certainly knew a little bit more about them, and they knew about us, too … We had some practices on some tactics that maybe gave us a better chance to break their defensive stronghold, which is pretty strong.”

In the first half, BU showed this defensive breakthrough, outshooting Army (7-6-7, 2-4-3 Patriot League) 11-1.

A little over five minutes into the match, senior forward McKenna Doyle raced to pick up the ball after a series of deep field passes.

While Doyle beat Black Knight goalkeeper Sydney Cassalia — an All-Patriot Second Team honoree — to the ball and fired off a shot on an open net, an Army defender prevented the Terriers from getting onto the score board.

In the 40th minute, Keefe found room for another one-on-one against Cassalia for BU.

The ground ball would slide right by the Black Knight for the semi-final game winner.

“It was funny because I’ve missed my fair share of breakaways,” Keefe said. “[I’ve] been working with the assistant coaches to make sure I could get it in the back of the net, and when it counts, it went in.”

The goal was Keefe’s first of the season. By the end of the match, she picked up her second.

Sophomore midfielder McKenna Kennedy also scored her first of the season off of a penalty kick.

Both were named to the Patriot League All-Tournament team, along with Heilferty and Churchill.

The Terriers split time in the net, with freshman goalkeeper Morgan Messner holding out for her own shutout in the semi-final match with four saves.

Feldman described the team’s depth as key to the its success.

“Our bench and our depth have been a significant advantage this year,” Feldman said after the Army match. “I think we are deeper than any team in the conference … As a coaching staff, we committed to developing a lot of players by getting them in-game experience, and I think that’s paying dividends right now.”

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