Senior Staff Writer
The UNCG Women’s Soccer Club entered the postseason seeded 4th in the Southern Conference with a 4-3-2 record in regular season conference play. The Spartans found their stride late in the season, finishing their last four games 3-0-1, outscoring their opponents twelve to one. Despite the four seed, the Spartans looked to carry the momentum into the conference tournament and make a push for the NCAA tournament.
The Spartans won their match over fifth-seed Western Carolina 2-1 in the first round with goals by Junior Caroline Woods and Senior Maddy Gilhool. UNCG advanced to play the tournament favorite, UT Chattanooga. The first half was evenly matched, with the Spartans dominating possession and the Mocs outshooting the Spartans 4-2. At the half, the Spartans found themselves leading 1-0 due to a beauty of a corner kick by Senior Gabi Santora in the 12th minute. The Mocs, however, responded quickly with a goal in the 66th minute to level the match. Both teams stood their ground in the remaining 24 minutes of play, leaving the match undecided at full-time. Tensions were high in overtime as a win meant a trip to the SoCon championship with an opportunity to punch an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament.
The game was ultimately decided in the 97th minute of play with a goal by Gilhool, assisted by Freshman Ryen Ortiz. Gilhool struck the ball from the top of the box into the back of the net to give the Spartans the game-deciding advantage with three minutes left in overtime.
Buzzing off of the biggest win of the year, the Spartans had to travel to Birmingham, Alabama to face the second-seeded Samford Bulldogs.
In the Spartans first SoCon Championship game since 2018, the Bulldogs dominated the Spartans on goal but failed to convert thanks to Freshman goalkeeper Emma Malone who stepped up big time for the Spartans. Malone set the tone early with a massive save on a Samford penalty kick in the third minute of the game. Malone saved five shots on frame in the first half and was a key factor to the scoreboard showing zeros for all at halftime. The second half was evenly matched as the Spartans settled into the game, but it was a defensive battle until the end. Malone made another monumental save in the 89th minute of the game as Samford’s Kaitlin Maynard sent a ball to the top left corner. Malone went full extension to punch the ball out of play and send the game to extra time.
Overtime still could not decide the Southern Conference Championship; the score was still without a goal at the end of double overtime, which led the two teams to one end of the field for penalty kicks to decide the winner. The game’s focus shined on UNCG Goalkeeper Emma Malone and Samford Goalkeeper Emma Donley. Both teams found the back of the net twice in the set of five attempts, then matched each other on the sixth, seventh, and eighth attempts. Finally, the ninth penalty kick decided the winner: Samford’s Caroline Donovan found the back of the net and forced UNCG into a must-make situation. Donley made the diving save of the shot taken by Junior Hannah Morton, winning the game for Samford, outlasting the Spartans 6-5 in penalties.
Samford however would only get to play one more game as they suffered a first-round loss to the Georgia Bulldogs in the NCAA Tournament.
UNCG had three players make the All-tournament team: Junior Dalani Stephens, Senior Eliza Radoll and Senior Maddy Gilhool. The Spartans walked away from Birmingham as the 2022 SoCon runner-up, but the success late in the season built a lot of positive momentum they can carry into the next season.