By: Edward Perez – Staff Writer
Baujan Field erupted into shouts of happiness and excitement as the Dayton’s women’s soccer team captured their first championship in the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament since 2011.
It was redemption day for the Flyers as 1,238 fans took the stands of Baujan Field to witness the championship game of the A-10 tournament between Dayton and rival school, La Salle. The Flyers have not won a game against La Salle since Oct. 3, 2010, and fell second to the Explorers last year, losing in penalty kicks in the championship.
When referee Danielle Chesky blew her whistle to signal the start of the game, the Explorers immediately surprised the Flyers when La Salle senior forward Kelsey Haycook headed the ball past the reach of Flyer goalkeeper Heather Betancourt on a poorly defended free kick.
La Salle stumped the Flyers, holding them off the scoreboard in the first half. The Explorers managed 14 total shots, whereas Dayton only managed nine. Betancourt’s performance kept La Salle in check with five saves in the first 45 minutes.
When halftime came, things had to change if Dayton wanted a comeback. Head coach Mike Tucker called the team together at halftime.
“Look, if we’re going to get this far and to win, we need to get back to playing the soccer we’re good at,” Tucker said.
Tucker was not pleased with the team’s first half performance but was astounded by the sudden change in the team going into the second half. It was a complete turnaround on behalf of the Flyers.
Dayton managed 12 shots in the second half, twice as many as the Explorers. Dayton forced La Salle’s keeper to make various saves. Betancourt made none in the second half, thanks to Dayton’s consistent possession of the ball.
Temporary relief came to the Flyers when a corner kick was deflected onto the feet of junior midfielder Nicole Waters, who lobbed the ball towards unguarded sophomore midfielder Erin O’Malley, who headed the ball in the back of La Salle’s net. It equalized the game and built momentum for the Flyers.
O’Malley came up big again as she assisted a goal by junior midfielder Megan Herr three minutes later to put the Flyers in the lead and close the game as the 2014 A-10 champions and qualifiers for the NCAA tournament.
“Amazing,” O’Malley described the feeling of contributing to the win. “We were here last year, except on the other side of it, and after losing and that crushing feeling that we felt, it was a motivating factor for the past 12 months to play La Salle and beat them in the conference final.”
Tucker said it was a frustrating feeling to be down at the half against a good team.
“It was going to be a tough battle to get back into after not playing good soccer in the first half,” Tucker said. “But talk about perseverance; wow, we persevered and thank God. Every year we hope to play in the NCAA and here we are.”
Five Flyers were named to the A-10 All-Championship team including freshmen forward Alexis Kiehl, Betancourt, junior forward Ashley Campbell, Waters and O’Malley, who was named Most Outstanding Player in the championship.
With regards to the NCAA tournament, Tucker asserts that not much is certain yet, but he expects a lot out of the team.
“We have to go into those games knowing we can win, and if we play good soccer like we’re capable of, we have the chance to beat anybody,” Tucker said.