The women’s soccer team trudged slowly to their locker room last Saturday night, their faces dark and barren. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to go. This wasn’t the way this season was meant to end.
Down 1-0 at halftime to a Case Western Reserve University squad they knew they could handle, the Yellowjackets were at risk of losing much more than a chance to chalk up yet another “W” against a University Athletic Association rival.
Saturday night was Senior Night — a chance for the most seasoned of the yellow and blue to take to Fauver Stadium one final time.
It was an opportunity for these players to put on one last show for their longtime fans, many of whom had been braving frigid nights such as this one for a full four years.
As if this weren’t enough, Saturday night was also the final home game for someone who’d been pacing Fauver far longer than any of the seniors had been playing there. Head coach Terry Gurnett — one of the winningest coaches in DIII women’s soccer history, with over 400 wins in a span of 33 years — is ending his coaching career at this season’s conclusion, meaning this was Gurnett’s last hurrah on a turf he’d grown to love and call home.
Perhaps most pressing, however, was that Saturday night was the eve before the DIII Coaches poll — the nationwide vote that would decide whether the Yellowjackets were deserving of a postseason berth. Thus, the home team’s aims included not only delighting their largest fan turnout since opening day and dealing a crushing blow to a worthy foe here in Rochester, but creating a statement that would be talked about by teams across the United States.
With so much on the line, it would have been understandable if the tremendous frustration and stress these women were under had been exhibited in their play. Sloppy and rash plays typically define teams in such situations as last-ditch, hopeless efforts replace normally competent teams.
These Yellowjackets, however, could not be classified as “typical.”
“For the first half, we were not playing our game and looked a bit defeated,” sophomore goalie Bridget Lang said. “But we all knew we were better than Case. [Assistant Coach Thomas Dardaganis] mentioned how we have overcome so much adversity this season, and he had every bit of confidence that we could come back to win.”
Lang seemed to believe her coach as much as anyone. In the second half, Lang shut down the Spartan offense, making several terrific saves including a diving deflection of a Case breakaway shot from six yards out, six minutes into the half. The ball wound up in the possession of senior defender Meagan Magee, who cleared the ball out of the box.
“[Magee] was like a brick wall,” Lang said. “I’m so confident playing behind her because I know she will always be there to have my back.”
And indeed she was. Magee was seemingly always in the right place at the right time — namely between a Spartan and an empty net. Magee extinguished numerous Spartan threats throughout the period, seemingly inspired by an incredible devotion to her goalie and team.
“On those plays, I knew I had to do everything in my power to get to that ball,” Magee said. “I was not letting our team lose, especially on Senior Night and [Gurnett’s] last game. I did not want to let our team down.”
On the offensive side, UR outshot the opposition, nine shots to five, in the second half — a drastic improvement on the 8-1 margin in the Spartans’ favor that defined the period before. In the 53rd minute, the offensive rebirth began to pay off, as junior forward Ellen Coleman racked up her team-leading 15th goal of the season to even the score, 1-1. After being illegally tackled in the box and awarded a penalty kick, Coleman deposited the ball in the right bottom corner of the net.
Four minutes later, the game-winning goal came from a more unexpected source. Freshman midfielder Kathryn Rowe, with only one goal to her name the entire season prior to Saturday, received a pass from senior midfielder Marissa Braverman from the corner of the field. Rowe turned, focused on the upper-right corner of the net, and scorched one by the Spartan goalie.
With the win in the bag, UR headed off the field to a well-deserved celebration. A boisterous crowd roared their support. “We’ll Miss You Seniors” posters were hoisted above several heads, and a sea of yellow-shirted fans donning posters emblazoned with Gurnett’s name gave their longtime leader one final salute.
News the following day was just icing on the cake: the Yellowjackets were playoff-bound, poised to play Western Connecticut State College at SUNY Oneonta this Friday, Nov. 12.
“Hopefully we will be playing until there is snow,” Rowe said. “I am really confident in this team, and we have amazing coaches who will be there to help us through it.”
Bernstein is a member of the class of 2014.