Conor Fitzgerald

After two big wins this weekend, the Colgate women’s soccer team is the Patriot League champions for the first time since 1999, the year in which the team ended its remarkable streak of eight league titles in nine years. With a 2-1 win over Army in penalty kicks on Friday and a 2-0 win over Lehigh on Sunday, the Raiders won their first title in five years and advanced to the NCAA Tournament, where they face 15th-seeded Arizona in the first round this evening.

The Raiders began their Patriot League playoffs on a cold Friday afternoon against fourth-seeded Army at Van Doren Field. The Raiders came into the tournament seeded first and playing some of their best soccer of the year, but they faced an Army team that was unbeaten in its last nine games. The two teams had tied, 1-1, in their only other meeting this year.

The Raiders struck first against Army when junior Carolyn Warhaftig headed in a corner kick from sophomore Kelly Niland to give Colgate a 1-0 lead 19 minutes into the half. The Colgate lead did not last for long, however, as Army scored 15 minutes later to tie the game when Sarah Domme scored the equalizer on a low shot that got by junior keeper Luisa Miller. With the game tied at one, neither team would be able to find the back of the net for the remainder of regulation despite plenty of good chances.

Colgate had most of the chances throughout the game, including a goal that was called back due to an offsides call. Niland also had a great scoring opportunity in front of the Black Knight net but was unable to convert. The Raider defense, meanwhile, again shut down the opposition’s offense for most of the game, helping the midfielders and forwards to control the flow of the game. The defense was anchored by sophomore Kellen Kroll, the Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year. The Black Knights saw their best scoring opportunity denied by senior defensemen and co-captain Kyle Koch, when she headed away a ball that was destined for the back of the net.

The offense kept the pressure on the Black Knights but Army’s defense refused to break. Army keeper Devin Collins had seven stops on the night to keep the Raider offense off the scoreboard after its first goal. With the game tied at one at the end of regulation, the game went into overtime.The Raiders dominated the first overtime, forcing Collins to make three great saves to keep the Black Knights alive. The two teams played a much more even second overtime period, which ended with the tie still intact, sending the game to penalty kicks.

“We went into the penalty kicks feeling confident,” Koch said. “It was something we had done in practice.”

Junior Kelly Kuss, Warhaftig and Niland all came up big for the Raiders in the pressure-packed situation, as each of them converted their shots. But the real hero for the Raiders was Miller, who had two enormous saves for the Raiders with their season on the line.

“Luisa came up big when we needed her the most,” Koch said. “She was amazing in the overtime period and has been a great keeper all year.” Down 3-1, the Black Knights needed to score on their fourth kick to stay alive, but Delaney Brown’s attempt went wide to the right and the Raiders advanced to the finals.

There, Colgate faced Lehigh on Sunday looking to avenge its only Patriot League loss of the season. The Raiders absolutely dominated the first half of play, out-shooting the Mountain Hawks, 7-0. The teams played a physical game after it became clear that the referees were going to let the teams play. The referees drew heckles from the crowd for several non-calls, especially when the officials did not blow the whistle when first-year Franny Iacuzzi was taken down on two questionable occasions in the penalty box.

After outplaying Lehigh in the first half, the Raiders came out needing to convert on some of their scoring opportunities in the second half. It looked like the Raiders had finally found the back of the net when Iacuzzi, the Patriot League Rookie of the Year, sent a blast past Lehigh keeper Erin Iwaskiewicz only to have it called back because of a handball. With the game still tied in the 75th minute, it was the Raiders who finally broke the tie. A Niland corner kick found its way to Kuss’ foot, and the junior scored her biggest goal of the season to put the Raiders up, 1-0. With the Mountain Hawks trying to tie the game, Kuss struck again to give the Raiders an insurance goal. The forward from Warners, NY sent a rocket from 40 yards out that sailed over the head of Iwaskiewicz and bounced into the net, putting the game out of reach. The Raiders kept Lehigh off the scoreboard for the final 10 minutes to secure the victory.

The win gave the Raiders their 10th Patriot League title and ninth under head coach Kathy Brawn. Seniors Kyle Koch, Allison Bernardini, Heather McSherry and Meredith Rovelli were presented with the Patriot League trophy as the team and their fans celebrated the title the Raiders had worked all season for.

“Winning the Patriot League [title] has been our goal all year and we couldn’t have asked for anything better,” Koch said.

Along with winning the Patriot League title, five Colgate players were named to the all-Patriot League team. Kroll, Iacuzzi and Warhaftig were all named to the all-League first team. Kroll was a key component to a defense that allowed only 20 goals, the fewest in the Patriot League. Iacuzzi burst onto the scene in her first season by scoring 15 goals and racking up 35 points for the Raiders. Warhaftig had six goals this season, the second-highest total on the team.

Making the all-League second team was Kuss and sophomore Jackie Burch. Kuss had 13 assists this season – only nine players in Division I had more. She also came up big for the Raiders when it counted in the postseason, scoring two goals against Lehigh and converting a penalty kick against Army, and for her efforts she was named the Patriot League Tournament’s Most Valuable Player. Burch was a key contributor to the Raiders’ strong back line, which had eight shutouts on the season.The newly crowned and honored women’s soccer team will attempt to prolong its season once again this evening, when it faces off with the Arizona Wildcats at 7:00 p.m. in Storrs, CT.